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! 

The temptation to fiddle

June 2, 2017

I just reread that title back, it sounds like some literature that would get handed out the trainee catholic priests in the nineteen fifties. Yesterday I finished a set of four drawings in biro that were inspired by (well pastiches of) etchings by William Hogarth circa 1755. The thing is though, when you do something like this, the original drawings are less than perfect, well they are when I do them anyway. The pencil underdrawing never really goes away and there is a level of smudge that causes problems when scanned. Getting an image from your mind to sketchbook, from sketchbook to page, page to scanner and from computer onto a file to take to the printers , for the printer then to fiddle with again thinking you meant somethings entirely different unless they know you and how you work is a protracted process. 

The thing I completely despise is the time spent using photoshop to clean up the image for print and because of the sheer scale of the drawings I have to first accurately put the image back together, compensating for shadows at the edge of the scanning bed and minor discrepancies in the angle they were put under the scanner. Then, many hours later you can finally make a start. It’s taken me many years to deprogram the rubbish that has been thrown at me and learn how to draw and paint like the best version of me rather than a bad version of someone else. I’ve come to terms with shaky lines and wonky circles, obsessive bits of detail and bored scribbles when my mind is onto something else it wants to be doing now. Photoshop though is a dangerous thing, it can be a basic tool to fix minor issues or a time machine where you can alter the entire course of a drawing, changing it out of all recognition. The urge to fiddle is addictive, particularly for me, what with all those pear shaped eyes and lopsided smiles. You change one, then another, then another and in the end it is just not your artwork, just some dead, generic, thing that could have been done by anyone and what is the point of that?

This can happen with people as well, particularly in relationships. We meet someone, fall for them, and then expect them to stop being who they are because parts of our personality don’t meet their satisfaction . It’s tricky at first as everyone is on their best behaviour and being the best them they can possibly be, or more accurately the best them that we think the person we desire wants us to be.  It doesn’t take long for people to relax into themselves and if we don’t like what we see, we go our separate ways, no harm done. The problems come when we like most of what we see but not all of it, no one is perfect and  we have to accept that if we want to be with someone there are things we just need to deal with. Things go horribly wrong when we try to force someone to change essential parts of their personality. 

This has happened to me in the past and, to my shame, I went along with it for a while. I tried to be more sociable, more outgoing, more engaged with other people and all it did was make me miserable, exhausted and rather pissed off with the world I was pushed into dealing with. I am who I am, I like being around thoughtful, honest, genuine, people who are incredibly talented in their chosen field and everyone else can just bugger off. I met too many, shallow, morally dubious, dishonest, trivial, people with big egos and minuscule talent and it ate away at my soul and drained the life from me. It didn’t take long for me to collapse under the strain and I soon returned to type, then balked at all this garbage I felt under pressure to keep doing it and I just couldn’t. It’s not pleasant to feel under constant pressure, to be backed into corners, manipulated and made to feel like you are an utter failure for no other reason than just being yourself and eventually, like any creatures with all their exits blocked off, things take a turn for the worst.

Hopefully that will never happen again, I think  I have finally learnt to accept myself for who I am and my art for what it is too. Perhaps that means I shall end up permanently single and the creator of strange drawings with limited commercial appeal but whatever happens, at least I will be truly me.

Only human

May 12, 2017

Like so much of late, the new Gorillaz album Humanz turned out to be an utter disappointment. It wasn’t that much of a surprise as the last one was pretty dire too. In fact, the only interesting thing about it was the cover artwork that featured Jamie Hewlett’s iconic characters depicted in a hyper realistic manner. It’s something that I’ve toyed with myself and thus spurred me on to have a go too. Well, it’s either that or fill in my tax return, go figure!  The thing I liked about the Gorillaz was the way they distanced themselves from all the usual sad realities about the music industry. When we are daft teenagers, we are more likely put pop musicians on a pedestal, deifying them in some way but as we and the bands we idolised aged, all that is left are shambling oafs dragging out the same old tat to pay for their kids private school fees or the latest divorce settlement. It’s all a bit sad really and watching Damon Albarn and co lurch about for the cameras on the Graham Norton show as the booze, drugs and rock n roll lifestyles have quite clearly taken their collective tolls I couldn’t  help but feel that a bit less reality was needed, not more.

So, as I started to take an idea of a, bulk standard, blonde haired, blue eyed, female Dweebling and flesh it out, so to speak, I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what it is that makes us human. I suppose it mainly boils down to self awareness, that knowledge of who we as an individual. We each define ourselves in different ways, what we like, what we don’t like, faith (or lack of it), some people define themselves by what they believe or do, others by family, a mother, a father, a daughter, a son. The confusion comes when people represent themselves differently to different people, “to prepare a face to face the faces that we meet” as T S Elliot put it, we all do it to a certain extent, but sometimes one can be left wondering if someone was ever there at all or were they just showing you what they thought you wanted to see. People are confusing… and I guess that is part of the wonder of them. There is much more to us though, our approach to music for example. The reality of anyone past the age of twenty five trying to be part of a music scene is always a bit iffy, as performers it’s a job but as punters….. Well, there aren’t many who can pull it off. Let’s put it that way, but I guess one’s cringe factor is a part of one’s personality too, people facility for doing naff things of pointless things, their need to please / amuse other people… Peoples need to be and individual or part of a gang or indeed to be an individual as part of a gang and hold onto to those mutually exclusive concepts without seeing the irony. For good or bad, it all makes us who we are.

I’ve been trying hard not to define myself by my health problems but, being trapped inside this sinking ship of a mortal frame, it just keeps happening. I’ve finally let myself off the hook as being crazy because, well, look around you, everyone is, some to the point where I am both terrified and fascinated by the fact they actually have jobs that put them near other people. Now I have all the physical stuff as well all that concerns me are the important things and all the shit slides away and, wow! Isn’t there a lot of shit? When I’m not defining myself by the stuff that makes me go “ow” I guess I am a sum total of my experiences, my knowledge, my skills (or lack thereof) and the ideas that come from them and how I choose to get them out into the world. Even doing that is an expression of me, let’s face it, I don’t do it for the fabulous riches or the adulation, I do it from compulsion and sometimes it costs me dearly. I suppose the one thing that really defines me is honesty and a sense of justice, both of which seem to be in sort supply right now. Being honest gets you into all sorts of trouble though, particularly when it starts to make other people look bad. I must admit, (see honest!) that I had started to see it as a major failing lately as I am naïvely only just coming to terms with the amount of insincerity that I butt my head against on an almost daily basis. I am still gobsmacked by just how shit so many things are and people’s ability to proudly produce the shoddiest of things, the shittest performance or the poorest service with a smile on their face and a song in their heart. I couldn’t live with that personally, and I guess that’s what gets me into all sorts of bother…. but then that makes me me I guess. 

It’s strange trying to humanise something deeply alien, like the characters I create. They bear as much semblance to the human world as, well, let’s face it, I do, which isn’t very much. I’ve done all the old under painting techniques, of layers below the skin, to give it proper translucent flesh tones. I’ve decided that they have the inner eyelids of cats and lizards, which exempts me from all that lids and eyelash business and I still can face (excuse the pun) noses. The lack of black lines is what I’m finding most unnerving, it changes the whole tone and a lot of my methodology. The stare is even creeping me out now. The whole point of the big staring eyes was always to represent just how much I see, how much I notice that passes others by and how exhausting that can be, you are waiting for a blink that never comes, there isn’t an off button.

I don’t like the picture, it unnerves me. I guess that means I’ll be doing a few more like it, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Christmas now

December 25, 2016

Pattern matching is a bugger. Amongst all the other issues I have collected over the years hypervigilance and pattern matching come into play today of all days. I look for indications of Christmases past, horror stories repeating themselves, rather than seeing what is really there, an endless string of possibilities. Even when I have had partners, those happy family Christmases have eluded me. What I need to remember is that they elude most other people too. 

There are several couples in St Leonards where I live who really seem to have a handle on things, after years they are quite clearly still into each other. I was told once that relationships that only exist in a bubble aren’t real… How badly they missed the point of love. You make your own world together, that bubble can expand to include others but the bubble is the core, the heart even.

That’s why Christmas only really works for narrow spectrums of people and for everyone else it is, at best, tolerated. If you see the people you see at Christmas all year round it is probably quite a nice affair, or if you actually get on with your family,  but when you are put in a position, like many, where life has taught you that your family are best avoided, or that you can’t wait to leave work at the end of the day so why on earth would you want to spend your free time with your work colleagues? Or that those people your partner has inexplicably aquired as friends quite clearly aren’t your friends, quite the opposite in fact. Christmas or indeed new year forces you into the company of these people and that is why so many arguments kick off. There is a reason you don’t see these people or you know well enough what the handling rules are so that you don’t get hurt. 

For me this is just another of those Christmases where I just have to be kind to myself and get to the end in one piece Where I have to acknowledge that by some I am quite pointedly being ignored or managed and where my usual lines of survival have been cut for this one magical day as all my friends I would call are off doing family things and I can’t even sit quietly and have a coffee in a seaside cafe as they are all shut. 

I’m still in bed, typing this instead of doing my usual idle Facebook scroll through as I can’t bear having my nose rubbed in it all. Christmas is a mirror and it will show me today that, no matter how hard I tried, my relationship failed and I really don’t want any more reminders of that thank you. I shall now get up, open my presents to me from me that I wrapped up with my eyes shut and I shall start this lonely Christmas Day….

Oh! Before I forget. This thing about choice… No one actively chooses to spend Christmas alone. It’s a bit like this choice… “Would you like me to poke you in the left eye? Or the right? It’s no choice at all right? With Christmas it is… Would you like to spend it with your own nightmare family and risk having a breakdown? Would you like to spend it with someone else’s family a and be reminded what a mess your own is? Or… Would you like to spend it with a bunch of sad singletons and try your hardest to convince yourself that you are having fun and it is all wonderful? As I said, Christmas is a mirror and a distorted funhouse one at that, it shows you at your worst, the things you let slide because you are too busy just getting on with your life to usually focus on them.

Ok… It’s nine in the evening, and if I give it a couple of hours I reckon i  will be able to go to bed and call it a day. While it wasn’t the best Christmas I have ever had, it’s been a long way from the worst. I got my coffee by the sea, so that was a step up from last year. I got contacted by lovely people. I got a few nice presents (mind you, they were bought by me so they had better be.) The day went quickly enough, the Japanese model kit (from me) took up most of it. There is something rather lovely about being able to sit down and idly make something, knowing full well that I, for once, won’t feel obliged to sell or market the bloody thing like everything else in my life. I can just while away a few pleasant hours making it and then stick it in a glass cabinet with all the others.

The best thing about this Christmas is that I shall forget it. A pleasantly dull day that won’t stand out in any way whatsoever and, at this point in my life, that’s the best I can hope for.

Alice is for Christmas, not just for life.

October 29, 2016

Let’s face it, Christmas is mad, madder than the maddest thing. Millions of people work themselves up into a frenzy doing the the strangest things, from the hunting of the turkey (or in my case the non horrible nut roast) through to the coating of everything with glitter, baubles and lights. What I have to do is even madder, utter nonsense in fact, drawing images to be used as Christmas cards during an Indian summer as the sun shines and I cover my head so it doesn’t burn. The conventions of Christmas cards, are strange. Take snow for example, when did it properly snow at Christmas? I honestly cannot remember and yes there I go drawing snowy wintery scenes that never ever happen.

When I drew my set of Alice illustrations for my Dweeblings in Wonderland show  a few years back, madness was an ever present factor in my life, I guess that is why I have always had such an affinity with the book. I tried to incorporate all the elements of madness in my drawings then, homelessness, exploitation, falling through the gaps in society. These elements are even more pronounced at this time of year and as the cold begins to bite and the disparities between rich and poor, sane and mad become more obvious. 

The real irony for me is that Christmas sends me scurrying away for cover like the cards from the queen of hearts, looking for somewhere to hide until the whole thing goes away. It’s never been a good time of year for me, new year neither and I never really recover until March. But for those who can embrace the madness and throw themselves wholeheartedly into it there is fun to be had I’m sure, if you like that sort of thing.

I think this is my third set of Alice cards now, it’s becoming my own Christmas tradition now in a strange way, a tradition of drawing things that never happen with a different twist I guess that is what Christmas really is, traditions, and mad ones at that. 

You can buy my Alice in Wonderland Christmas cards here.

A clockwork opportunity. 

October 28, 2016

I have, on occasion been labled negative, I don’t really get it. In fact, the only thing I’m negative about is negativity, sometimes vocally so. When I see people taking advantage of people, stealing the ideas off others and claiming them as their own, abusing people, manipulating them or putting others in harms way, I say so. Anyway, today I had a plan, go to Bexhill, have lunch with my friend, come home via the printers, pick up the prints I ordered on orange card and get them framed. So today I woke I, got trolled, my lunch meeting has to be rescheduled and my prints were done on white card by mistake. I could have waited about til after lunch for them to be redone, or gone home and come back again. Or… Colour it in myself… No, wait! Write all over it in nadsat, the language used in a clockwork orange. Ooh! Hang on! I can write a little bit of prose in it! Superb! The results are below….

“I, that is Chris and my three droogies sat in the fluffywuffy love cafe drinking moloko plus. That is moloko plus caffeeen, moloko plus chai and moloko plus koko powdor an pinky foamy lumpy bits. We were sharpening up the senses for a bit of the old ultraviolence. Tolchocking a few baboochka an dev’ in a bitva with the bikey litey banda, all big rot gloopy an no mozga they are wot with the graf plot on the scoteena wot all blab an oomny makin things and the no blab gloopy vech an same plot mark, an the real gromky one all blab blab an big bot givin the glazees proper horrorshow an that. The banda I wish all vred as the all gloopy and make me bolny in my guttywuts. I is all bitva real horrorshow with the band here, bands all gloopy, banda of this and that with gloopy things all around, alway all bit rot an more big rot. We crash a big red rollermotor an swoosh it all up an down past the big blue! Choodenessy it was an we were guffin til our guttywuts roared. We viddeees the big baboochka with the blue voloss an to it out with a loud kerumpt! They krovvy ran all over real like the big tap had turned full on.”

You can buy my Clockwork Orange t shirts here.
Badges here
And Christmas cards here

What’s the answer?

October 10, 2016

This is a bit of a transition for me. It’s sort of a record review, or records review as it is more about the band and their full catalogue than just their new album. Let’s face it, most new music is shit. I don’t mean that as one of those, hiding in my teenage years clinging to the music of my youth like a well sucked comfort blanket but more in terms of where on earth can anything go anymore without sounding like a bad pastiche of something that came before? Two things create a new musical genre, new technology or a new cultural movement although with culture it can be hard to tell which came first sometimes. 

I think the blah nature of pretty much all I hear see and experience now really gets me down, shitty execution, regurgitated ideas, tedious repetitive dross. I tend to avoid the bulk of modern culture for that very reason. I hasten to add that I do keep tabs enough not to be out of touch but not enough to get sucked in by anything as ghastly as being “down with the kids” or anything that sad.

I first heard of Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “the answer”) whilst watching the film chappie by south African director Neil Blomkamp, I’ve always been a fan of the way Blomkamp masks social commentary in what seems on the surface to be throwaway crap, not done since paul veerhoven in the eighties and early nineties. The band die antwoord appear in chappie as failed future versions on themselves. I was particularly taken with the graffiti that adorned the set of the film and tracked it down to a combination of the work of band member ninja and South African photographer and artist Roger ballen.  The style had a similar quality of childlike but with a dark and malevolent edge that mine does and led me to start researching into them and I loved what I found. Yoladi visser and Watkin Tudor Jones (ninja) had developed there look and sound in a complete cultural bubble full of obscure samples and references, often choosing a sound that is intentionally dated just to annoy people. What really fascinates me though is the way they have created something that is cleverly non clever, the world “willful” springs to mind particularly as they have had a wonderful history of committing financial suicide on a regular basis, putting whole albums out for free download after briefly signing up to major labels and biting any hand that attempts to feed them. I must admit that I totally understand this as whenever I realise that anyone is taking interest in what I do for the wrong reasons I tend to go out of my way to annoy them and send them scurrying back to their own safe preconceptions. 

The thing that I love about Die Antwoord is their bumble bee quality, bumble bees have big fat hairy bodies and tiny little wings, they are an aerodynamic impossiblity, they should not work and yet there they go, buzzing around the flowers wilfully denying the laws of physics. Die Antwoord, grate, they annoy, the more weird and ugly they look, the more beautiful they are. They have now managed to do something that I have wanted all my life, to be turned into action figures and by illustrator/toy designer Ashley Wood and  3a, makers of the most beautifully crafted toys no less.

I’ve been sitting listening to their latest album, mount ninji and da nice time kid, whilst doing my Photoshopping, the job I really hate being tethered to a desk for hours on end, and have found it endlessly fascinating. Awful, nineties rave sounds mixed with what sounds like something from the Victorian music halls, meandering breaks in sounds to go and discuss with a resolutely out and proud gay God about the gayness of a rap lyric, sweary children, aphex twin and Toni Basil references. It should not work. But it does.

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