October 20, 2016

At the moment I am trying to train myself out of looking at Facebook, which is awkward seeing as I have to using it to promote my artwork. The nearest I can liken it to is an eating disorder, and I completely acknowledge that compared to those it is completely trivial, you have to eat, you just can’t cut it out of your life and walk away.

I have had addiction problems in my life, I am obsessive by nature and I try my best to channel it all into art and creativity but at various points in my earlier life, before I learnt to control it, I became addicted to painkillers and to cigarettes. I quit both eventually but it wasn’t much fun. Everyone has things they do all the time, little ticks, little phrases. I say “ooh!” an awful lot for example, I was joking with a friend yesterday about how it must be like the Inuits having many words for snow. I have a myriad tones for the word “ooh!” There is Ooh! Someone nice is at the door, there is ooh I’ve just spotted some trainers or a t shirt I would like to buy, ooooh I’ve just see a gorgeous designer toy, OOOH! I’ve just had an idea, OOooOOH!!! There is a naked lady in my home. It’s so ingrained that it is part of me. Sometimes we carry on things way past when we need to, I still waft an imaginary cigarette around when I am talking and a lot of my anxiety, most people’s anxiety in fact, is carried on from things that happened  in early life that I am still trying to  protect myself from that don’t even exist any more. This is where it gets confusing, if you remove a key habit from your life, are you still you? What exactly is “you” anyway? I’ve been guilty at times of trying to point out things in people’s life that is obviously doing them harm and it never works out well, people can only ever come to conclusions for themselves. A year into three years of counselling, I worked out what was blitheringly obvious to the counsellor from day one but she could never have told me. It’s all that giving people the gift malarkey. Some people try and circumvent (god I hate this phrase) personal grow by going on some weekend, sort your life out, course, paying hundreds of pounds to magically fix your life. An old college friend of mine who had to be rescued from a cult calls these Cult Lite, they use the same programming techniques but combine them with some sort of pyramid scheme. The truth is, changing yourself in any way takes bloody hard work and time.

I have been trying to create healthy loops, ticks and habits over the years, going for a long walk every day, reading, trying to eat healthily (I’m still working on that one), creating things…. This is where it gets into eating disorder territory, writing this blog is a loop and sometimes it’s a good way of getting the thoughts out of my head that would eat me alive if left in there, sometimes it entertains or explains something but sometimes it gets me into trouble, same with the artwork, it isn’t  always that clear when I am crossing a line from useful or interesting to offensive and hurtful, it gets into so many grey areas that you can see nothing else if you are not careful. 

I’ve been doing a bit of knitting recently, I used to knit all the time and have done since a teenager. I stopped a while back because it became too trendy and I didn’t want to be associated in any way with the sort of people who had jumped on the bandwagon. It’s  nice doing it again, knowing that my hands remember everything, but once I’ve made a couple of hats for myself I shall stop again. Where as it used to be a passion, it is now just a useful skill to have. It doesn’t define me, not the way it would the quirky straight guy who would do it in his twenties which was me back then, doing a degree in constructed textiles and getting praises heaped on me and a strange admiration from women. 

There are similar questions I ask myself about the difference between being child like and being childish. I have a huge collection of toys, ones from my childhood, art toys decorated or designed by other artists from around the world, toys that are technically very small sculptures, I make teddy bears and there are plenty of mine about the house as well as examples of some of the most interesting ones I have found by other people or companies. I am fascinated by the shapes, the colours, the textures… I try and see the wonder in most things, beautiful skies, shapes in clouds and trees. I am curious to know what is behind doors, over walls, underneath stuff and I make up my own versions which are usually but not always much more interesting. Childish though is probably more about all that nasty playground stuff, gangs, who’s in, who’s out, doing things with a lack of thought that effect other people, not thinking things through, not seeing the consequences of your actions or not really caring about them, showing off… Plus I’m not intentionally trying to act like I’m young on some slightly embarrassing mid life crisis trip back into an idealised version of  my youth. I think I’m ok on all those counts so I think I am safe to keep the toy fixation loop going.

The Facebook loop though… I think over the years it is fifty fifty, I’ve got back in touch with some lovely people and it’s got my artwork to some places it wouldn’t otherwise have got  to but it’s also caused an awful lots of arguments and falling outs and I have seen things that I would rather not have. It’s damaged the distance I have tried to keep from toxic people and unintentionally  upset some nice ones, people have definitely got hurt I am sorry to say, including myself and people I love. Over the last half a year or so I have cut down what I see  of other people’s lives, particularly the one’s who’s loops, ticks and childishness are particularly  tedious and I have become incredibly selective about who sees my stuff which is no mean feat with all the privacy settings keep changing all the time. The next thing is to learn how to leave my iPad well away from the bed area so that it isn’t the first and the last thing I see each day.

In time I hope to replace my social media behavioural loop with a book again, as obsessive habits go, being a voracious reader is a good one.

Time flu by.

October 1, 2016

I caught myself this morning trying to draw with my eyes no more than a few inches about the paper, I finally resorted to reading glasses but I wasn’t happy about it. At forty six years of age, I’m finally having to start seriously worrying about my body as much as my mind. My mind has been a constant source of annoyance and frustration for decades now but the rest of me is catching up. I could laugh off the back trouble, particularly as it started back in my twenties due to ill advised bedroom athletics with an ex girlfriend. Then came ‘the forties noise’ the low grunting and moaning that accompanies any even slightly strenuous activity.  Then last year, wham! crippling chest pain, pins and needles, exhaustion. It’s all half the reason I was such a ratbag at times, but try telling that to anyone… The only people who get forgiven I find are drunk people, and the civilised middle class sort at that. Anyway, chronic heart disease at forty five basically, so that’s what I get for having such an eventful youth. Whoopsee! 

The other day, whilst picking up my monthly supply of medication, a depressingly large supply of stuff with comedy side effects that can make life tedious, I was offered a flu jab. It seems I am now officially regarded as vulnerable in my body as well as brain. It’s so strange… You’d think it was the Lilliputian chicken wire shoring up my arteries that would get me down, but nope! It’s the flu jab, such a banal little thing compared to being wired up, pumped full of drugs, having my arteries sliced into and a load of cable threaded into me. I guess that’s what gets me, the banality of it. A tick on a box somewhere that says, Christopher! you are officially a knackered old codger. I certainly don’t feel old in my mind, granted I don’t parade about town like the rest of st leonards and Hastings, out every night  trying to be involved in whatever just for the sake of it. I accept the wisdom that comes with age gladly but that is not the same as acting old. Acting old now seems to be to pretend you are young and naive, do things with enthusiasm that you have no skill at. Sod that! I like having dignity, I like having brains, I like being sober and I like seeing everything I’ve done and done well, I like taking pride in what I do but retaining the humility not to be proud. God! I do trot it out…

I am designing Christmas cards at the moment and I am finding it more than a little unnerving. My last Christmas was grim to say the least. A combination of poor health conditions, loneliness and well… That’s about it really.  As things are going now I suspect this Christmas will be a grim affair, I hope for better but hope on its own is futile occupation. At least I can be thankful for the knowledge that I won’t be at death’s door this year. Granted I will have plenty of offers, the Christmas dinners, the parties, the Christmas club  nights and New Years do’s, but they are hollow things to do if your heart isn’t in them, just a way of marking time and keeping up pretence. I’m not one for that, pretence, as I mentioned above there is a lot of that about and I can’t abide it. I will ignore it, and it might , just might, go away but probably won’t. 

I do worry though, when I watch things repeat, watch the world go around in circles and the people with it. Am I jaded or wise? Perhaps wise enough to know I’m not wise is a better third option. I get frustrated though, watching so many of my age and above clinging to the notions of the music and fashions of their youth as if it has some great relevance  and unifying force. I am young enough to understand the fluidity of culture now, a great sea of information that has been released into the void and how music, art, literature now has little meaning beyond that we choose to give it. When I see someone of my age clinging to their youth I just cringe, embarrassed for themselves and for me by association.

Truth be told, I don’t feel old, I don’t feel young, I just feel like me. Which is handy, seeing as that is who I am.

LA Tattoo

September 19, 2016

Ok… This is slightly left field but I get these moments when I think. Right! Sod you Britain! Sod you Hastings! I’m going to do one! 

It’s utter cobblers of course as I am dug in like a tick and I love my little flat and I love the sea and I know some proper lovely people hereabouts but every now and again things can just get too much. Between the school classroom level bitchyness, the clicky groups that feather their own nests while exhibiting virtually no discernable talent whatsoever and the weird, almost laughable, sense of civic pride for the littlest of victories and the crumbiest  of claims to fame it, does often get quite tiresome. I can’t bare hubris or any sort of pride really, I suspect I may have been ahmish in a previous existence although I do like me trainers … That would be totally out.

So whenever things start getting a bit claustrophobic my mind starts wandering, looking for escape routes…

So get this, in the time I have been on Instagram I have noticed that two groups seem to like my stuff more than anyone else. Tattoo artists and Los Angeles art galleries. So, logic dictates that the best thing for me to do is to up sticks and move to LA and become a tattoo artist. Right? I must admit, I do get really sick of trying to bash my head against the duel brick walls of provincial fuddyduddyism and rarified down from London yummymummyridiculousdogism and it would be nice to deal with a few people without so many preconceptions for a change. 

There are some major flaws with this scheme though… Firstly, I am a heavy duty irony user, I get into enough trouble I this country without being taken literally on the worst elements of my gallows humour, let alone irony free America. Then there is the matter of pre exhisting health problem and the appalling U.S health system. I’d be in the hole already before I even tried to find somewhere to live. Then there is all that driving everywhere business…. I love walking, it’s when I get my best ideas plus you really don’t want to see me driving anywhere as I drift off badly enough on my feet, let alone behind a ton of metal. 

And most importantly… I don’t want any tattoos. Apart from the basic fact that my medication causes me to bleed like a stuck pig even from looking at a needle, I think many of them look awful. There are some exceptions though, a photographer friend of mine has got some doozys and I’ve seen some lovely ones that look like Indian fabric recently that were quite lovely but mostly, well, they aren’t permanent are they? They go all blurry and faded and smudgy and some people have such idiotic things put onto their skin that you just want to slap them. My dad had the blurriest things on his arms, original wartime indigo work done in Singapore and Ceylon when he was in the navy but by the time I was born they looked like an old receipt pulled from a trouser pocket after they have been in the washing machine. 

So as escape plans go that is pretty rubbish rubbish I guess… I guess I’ll just have to stick around for a while. Which will in turn annoy a few people, so hey! Bonus! 

Man / Child

September 17, 2016

I bloody hate name dropping so recounting this little story is going to make me cringe. A long while ago  I helped write a book about the goth band The Cure, I never had my name on the book as the obsessive nature of Cure fans at the time meant that they have an annoying habit of turning up on the doorstep of anyone even remotely connected with them and I like my privacy. It was the early 90’s and I was pretty sick of the goth lifestyle back then, I liked the sunshine too much for a start. Plus I loved bright colours, there was more to life than black, purple and the occasional polka dot pattern. 

So somewhere near the end of my goth years,for want of a better phrase, I started doing the unthinkable, I started turning up at goth gigs in bright colours. It was at one of these, back stage at a cure concert after party, that I bumped into the then ultra famous comedian Rob Newman, one of the first comedians ever to play arena gigs. What was strange was that he had started making the same sartorial choices. To the point where we had both been shopping in the same shops, most notably Daniel Poole at the end of Neal Street Soho. It was one of the first clothes shops with a resident dj and I had been drawn in by their use of Japanese anime and in particular the really edgy stuff that is now described as hentai. I was fascinated by the ultraviolet reactive inks and the use of super reflective prints and fabrics, elements which would later morph into cyberpunk. Things were still new then, the endless stream of irony, post modernism, pluralism and mass produced, commodified, watered down, crap had yet to creep into every aspect of modern culture as it has now. But then it was new and exciting and mr famous person must have thought so too. We chatted about our outfits, like a couple of spotty teenagers in the changing room at top shop, amidst a sea of black and velvet.

Things in my life started getting messy around then, the all night parties, the weekend long parties and things that helped one stay up, alert and dancing for all that time were having nasty effects on me. The false feelings caused by substances that altered seratonin levels would mean that the skeezyiest of people would get under my radar particularly if I thought they were holding. 

I haven’t got many pictures from around that time, it was before the days of digital cameras and so photos cost money and involved effort and organisation and what little of either of those commodities that were about were better spent at the next party or getting over the last one. Strangely enough this meant that in nearly every photo of me from the messiest time of mine and many of my friends lives consisted of my holding a child and being taken by a family member. It is safe to say that in every photo I look a complete mess, pale, pallid, skin in all and a haunted look in most. Other friends came a cropper too, mental health problems, neurological problems, bad decisions, bad association. The strangest thing was the chum of mine who ended up with a strange condition where everything she touched constantly felt wet, she was a mess long before this and I knew all too well that trying to get any sense out of her on a Monday or a Tuesday was never going to happen due to her constant weekend partying habits. 

There were many casualties of that time, the rave years I guess you’d call them, but I don’t think I was one of them, whatever was going on wtih me was already in the post courtesy of genetics and a messed up upbringing. 

I’ve been reminded of this all recently by a combination of things, post rave ambient band The Orb were playing on the pier tonight just up the road  and the predictable photos started popping up on my Facebook feed and by coincidence there was some acid house themed nonsense lurching about Hastings last night. 

I’ve been trying to fathom out what had been going on with the people of my age locally. It’s as if everyone has decided to have their midlife crisis all at once and in public. Time was that the occasional middle age man would scandalise the neighbourhood by leaving his wife, getting a leather jacket, a pierced ear, a motorbike and a daft teenage girlfriend, nowadays this seems mundane as the endless attempts to recreate a youth that they probably never had, because they were too busy getting on the property ladder and feathering their family nests, get more and more bizarre. 

I have been scratching my head wondering why all this nostalgia crap and attention seeking behaviour leaves me cold and I think that I have finally worked out the answer, I have been having a mid life crisis of my own for so long that I can’t tell the difference anymore. It makes sense, well sort of, as I was a carer from an early age and had experienced extreme poverty and degradation at the hands of Thatcher’s policies. I had grown up far too fast and hit my own What’s it all about? years at the same time that my peers were still in their partying phase. Through countless years of poor mental health, poverty and vulnerability I sought to find myself, create a more fullfilling life for myself and work out just who and what I am. I guess I’m still doing it, a forty six year old man with a house full of toys and a wardrobe of T-shirts, jeans and trainers. Maybe I find all the local sillyness so hard to fathom not so much because of all the embarrassing behaviour but because everyone is such a rank amateur at it. 

The truth is that I really don’t know.

The bear faced truth about Christmas. 

December 21, 2015

 Every now and then I get asked the same question. It goes something like this… “Oh Chris! I love your bears! Why don’t you make more of them? You’d be rich!” Wrong! Whilst not actually timing myself, I can gauge the four bears that I have made this week in television shows. Three movies, 10 episodes of a Swedish cop drama. Three seasons of a sit com, a ray Harry Hausen documentory and assorted Dr Who re-runs. I’m guessing about 35 hours of eye fodder. Being both heavily medicated and a bit poorly , I have probably been slowed down a bit so let’s say 7 hours a bear. That includes finding and marking the grain of the fabric, placing and marking the pieces, cutting out, trimming the edges, trimming the muzzle, pinning, tacking, sewing, pinning, tacking, sewing again, placing joints, placing eyes, stuffing, embroidering the nose, sewing on ears, fixing joints, stuffing the belly and doing the closure stitching. So even at below living wage that’s £49, plus materials of say £20 (it’s often much more). So before we have even thought about needing to add a shop mark up, that’s £70 for a small bear. Heaven forbid what it would be if I made it an outfit too. Now please remember, this is based on minimum wage. Theoretically, as a trained and experienced artist, I should be charging at least £20 per hour which would bring the figure up to £160 for a small bear. Do I charge that? Of course I don’t! I don’t know anyone with that kind of money to burn. A little bear in Chris world will cost you £30 – £50. Which is why I never attempt to make a living from them. So why do I do it? I guess that’s the obvious question, and the equally obvious answer is this, “Because I like doing it.” It is a little more complicated though. Many years ago I trained to be a textile designer and subsequently work for a while designing and making knitwear and accessories for the higher end of the fashion industry. I was bloody good at it an’ all and had a reputation for making stuff that nobody else could wrap their brains around how it was put together. Anyway, it was a big deal for me to get to university, it was a big deal for me to get into the fashion industry, but when I got there I instantly wished I hadn’t. The first thing I realised was that the sort of people who could afford what we were making were the sort of people who couldn’t stand being caught wearing the same thing twice. So I was effectively making high quality things out of the finest materials that were regarded as disposable by their buyers. Then, once the rot had set in, the final straw was my trip to London fashion week. It’s really not what you think it is (unless you think it’s a trade fair for selling shit that is). Behind all the supermodels and celebrities it is just a trade fair. I can pinpoint my falling out of love with fashion to the exact second that I unzipped my flies in the lavatory and looked down, the water was blue, it was a chemical toilet! Oh the glamour! Anyway, to cut a long story short, I left the fashion industry but I like to use the pattern cutting skills I picked up to make my own teddy bear designs. Using similar making processes but to create something that, with luck, becomes a family heirloom rather than something that ends up in a charity shop. The disposable nature of fashion has become much, much, worse now than it was fifteen years ago. First with the rise of Primark, Peacocks and H&M where the clothing became so cheap that everyday folk could practice the crass art of throw away fashion. I think the obscenity factor has hit overload in the last couple of years though with the growing popularity of the Christmas jumper. This article more than any other represents the wastefulness of the western world. These sweaters, most often made of the most synthetic of materials seem to be everywhere I look. Whilst I realise that I have ‘form’ when in comes to kicking off, about well… pretty much everything, I feel with this one I am on a winner. Knowing as much as I do about the making of knitwear, it may be made on a machine but there always has to be some poor sod casting on, setting up the rib pattern, adding the extra yarns to make the hideous reindeer pattern or whatever, someone sewing or linking the seams, steaming, labelling… Many people, many hours work, all to produce what? A terrible garment in a sweatshop on the other side of the planet for at best two week’s wear. It would be as easy to making something in cotton or wool in an ethically sourced manner that would provide years of wear for the same time and energy expended. It would be even better if we paid people proper wages. There is a level of exploitation in what I do but the person I am exploiting is me as I like putting nice stuff into the world even when I barely break even.  It is my choice, a luxury someone in extreme poverty in a regime even more corrupt than Britain (Well, for the moment anyway) simply doesn’t have.  If you would like to know more about my bears look at the page thingy in my header up top in other stuff or check out my Facebook page here. Oh! And by the way, Happy Christmas! Xxxcrimbojumpers

What do (struggling) artists do all day?

October 14, 2015

Photo 14-10-2015, 09 07 39I’ve been working as a “day job” artist for almost a year now. For most people this would be a cause for celebration but for me it means one thing. I’ll have to fill in a self employed person’s housing benefit form, not only that, I will have to, for every month,  get every receipt , sort it into order and stick them in little envelopes and stick each of those little envelopes into bigger envelopes and then into a big box file, like the most rubbish set of Russian dolls ever created. Oh! And to top it off, I have to drain a printer cartridge copying every single item to make sure it doesn’t go missing. This whole process will take about a week, a whole week where I will achieve precisely nothing. Obviously, being homeless is a big no no (been there, done that see previous posts) but I won’t be pushing myself forward in any way. As someone whose primary objective is to make “art” it really is amazing how little time I actually get to make any.  Take today for example. This morning I woke up shockingly early as I was deeply concerned about someone I love and knew that there was no chance of getting back to sleep. I had started work by 7.30 a.m, a very strange little making project…

Photo 14-10-2015, 09 08 32Back in another life, many years ago, I worked in fashion amongst other things, mainly doing knitwear but other stuff along those line too. I soon became very disenchanted with it all. I can pin point the moment things changed, I can even tell you that it was at some point between the 20th and 25th of February 1999. London Fashion Week used to be a big deal, I don’t know if it is any more as I take so little notice but anyway, there I was, walking past all the cameras and journalists and… It’s really just a trade fair. People selling shit. I saw the odd celeb, the odd major player but it was all just business, like any craft fair you’ve ever been to but with bigger and posher stalls. The moment the last of the illusion  came tumbling down was when I went to the toilet and whilst pissing something struck me(and it wasn’t someone who didn’t like my outfit) It was a chemical toilet! A very fancy one mind, but a chemical toilet none the less. The creme de la creme of the fashion world had less fancy lavatories than I had at home. The whole nonsense of it all started to get to me after that, the branding, the lack of individuality. Sure there was crazy stuff, but then as now when crazy becomes the norm it becomes just as tedious and uninspired. For a while I never made a thing and then after several years, I could take all the bits I loved, the invention, the cutting, the joy of the craft and use it in a better way. I started to make one off teddy bears. Twee as this might seem, it used all that knowledge and put it in something that was totally in disposable. The true irony of high end fashion is that you put in all that skill and effort into something that, once photographed on a celeb, can never be worn again. Whereas with a bear, it will be loved, become worn, be repaired (with a bit of luck badly, as it adds to the charm) and become a touchstone to someone’s childhood. I could deal with that. What I couldn’t deal with was the time it took and the little reward I got for doing it, so I stopped. Plus my painting overtook my life. But now I have opened shop again as a special favour for an old friend. I am making as many bears as I can get out of a pair of her late mother’s trousers. There is a strange comfort to it, I feel I’m doing some good for a change. There hasn’t been enough of that in my life of late and I think the need the karmic brownie points. When it got around 10.30 and my arse was going numb from sitting too long, pinning and sewing. I wandered down the hill to the printers, leaving the house right now is a bit of a gamble as I all waiting for some extra large bear joints to come in the post and they won’t get through my lilliputian letter box, as a wasted hour trailing to the postal depot really wouldn’t help right now. I’m very aware at this point of how locked in my life becomes and I think I am writing this today as it was a particularly good / bad example. When I got to the printers, my cards had been printed but neither cut nor folded, I have discovered that there are so many subtleties to the art of printer speak and their concept of time. I couldn’t do their job or cope with the numbers of people that want their stuff done NOW and I make a point of being a minor irritant rather than a full on pain in the arse. I did have a little chuckle though, one of the most pretentious chocolate box type painters who block me from having a one man show in a gallery she was on the comitee of was trying to get something photocopied and didn’t know what size paper was up from a4… Hmmm… Yes…

So off I went for a coffee and to give the sea a damn good looking at. I have learnt that going more than a day without leaving the house is not good. Some years ago now when I was full on nuts I wouldn’t  leave the house for weeks, and even months at one particularly bad point, so it is vital to get out every day. Unfortunately today there would be too much “out” as this neccesatated another outing after lunch. I spent the hours inbetween doing bears again until the doorbell went. Now this is an extreme rarity in my world as where I live is virtually impossible to locate by any but the most persistent of people. I spent a decade living on a main road in a large house (not mine) devoid of double glazing, brick driveways, solar panels and all the other shit that door to door sales people try and sell you. Turned out it was the heating engineer for the flat upstairs. People make a big mistake by calling heating engineers plumbers, there is a massive difference between channeling water and installing and maintaining  a boiler that, if fitted wrong, could explode and take out half a street or silently poison you to death while you sleep. I come from a family of heating engineers and true “plombiers” i.e workers of lead. Knebworth house, me my brother and my dad did the roof of that. I was only fifteen at the time. Anyway, I always like chatting to “plumbers” mainly because I could so very easily have been one. My family were obsessed with me doing a job where I never got my hands dirty… Ha! Well that worked out well! But I’m always fascinated and slightly envious of this other life I may have had where I actually got paid proper money.

So I finally get home after trip number two with my new cards and took a break from sitting on my arse in front of the telly sewing bears, to sit on my arse packing greetings cards. I do love a telly job, it’s so rare now I have one. It’s all staring screen  Photoshopping stuff nowadays. So there is me, sticking an envelope inside a card, then the card inside a cellophane bag, then slipping a little bit of paper with the card’s wording in the bag, then peeling of a protective strip, pushing the air our and finally sealing the packet shut. Whilst doing this I ponder at the notion of what value an artist puts into something that he or she has produced. Signing a print makes it far more valuable but, whilst packing greetings cards, the problem that I have is not covering them with d.n.a from numerous paper cuts, pin pricks and stray eyebrow hair and eyelashes.You would have thought that cloning material for and artis would massively bump up the value, but it doesn’t work that way. I was pondering the work of the, much disliked, painter over of other people’s stuff and dauber of potato heads whose name I refuse to mention. One of his master pieces must take less time to knock out than it does for me to package a card… funny old world and a deeply unfair one. So at 9pm it’s time to down tools and start sorting out clothes and equipment for the on site painting commission that I am starting the next morning and two hours later still and I’m falling into bed.  Well that’s it! But oh wait! I am actually doing something stereotypically interesting tomorrow. Shall I tell you about that? Hmmmm….. Let’s see…. Maybe another day.

In the meantime you can purchase my d.n.a free cards here. You lucky people!

Sympathy for the Devil

September 15, 2015

b&wscreen_edited-1Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of… Well I’m certainly not wealthy but as to whether I have taste or not, I guess that is quite a subjective question. I’m going to be plugging my new t-shirt design somewhere in this article, so you can decide for yourself.

There are something about elephants in the room that I find irresistible, I don’t know what it is but I just seem to have some form of Tourette’s syndrome where I have to talk about the thing no one dares say. Whether that be a truly talentless guy proclaiming himself as a polymath, a bunch of sad middle aged attention seekers kidding themselves that they are still cool by draping themselves in fairy lights and riding  drunk up and down the prom or by mentioning the unmentionable, that Aleister Crowley, great beast 666 grew up, grew old and died in Hastings.11 Oh and there is also the little matter of this government systematically undermining the lives of the disabled and vulnerable. I’ll be poking that particular elephant good and hard until the rspca make me stop. There is this fantastic  thing that the Japanese do where they casually bat away an invisible fly with their hand. This means, “I know what you are talking about, you know what I am talking about, but neither of us are going to say a word about it.” We don’t have that in the UK. There is a wonderful quote about the band Pink Floyd in the 1970’s before Roger Walters finally left. No one was talking to each other, they had separate management teams and the size of their egos  grew to match their huge bank account. “Things got so bad that someone almost said something”. I think this sums up the British perfectly. We mutter, mumble, scowl and  silently  judge until we hit a point where we implode and by then it’s usually far too late to do anything about it. Heaven forbid the thought that we may not be liked, accepted or be seen to have a strong opinion that we’ve formulated for ourself.

crowley paintingWhen I first visited Hastings,  in the days of dial up Internet one of the first things I wanted to do was visit Aleister Crowley’s grave. I imagined that it would be a Mecca for visiting weirdos of all persuasions akin to that of Jim Morrison’s in Paris. What I discovered was nothing, he had been cremated, quite a rarity for the late 1940’s. I then noticed that he was conspicuously absent from all the town’s tourist guides. As far as officialdom was concerned Crowley didn’t exist. I must admit, I found it hard to fathom, even someone  as horrible as Jack The Ripper is a “celebrated” figure in his stalking ground, if eviserating women is something to be proud of ???  So what is it? Too soon? The truth is, I’ve never got to the bottom of the why but I felt at the time and have ever since that someone needed to acknowledge the Crowley connection, that someone  has turned out to be me.

So Aleister Crowley, the great beast 666, was he truly evil? It’s a tricky question. Did bad things happen because of his actions? Certainly. But evil? If you read the likes of Nietzsche, evil is a point of view, nothing more, but then again he became a poster boy for the Nazis which isn’t the best of validations. I can think of a handful of people who hate me off the top of my head, does that make me evil? It may make me an arsehole, but evil? No. But then again if the people who hate you are universally regarded as arseholes themelves then being hated is a sign that you are on the right track. The problem with calling anybody anything is perspective, if you surround yourself with people who support your point of view then anything can be right. Casual racism was the norm in Britain up to the seventies and our Tory government was supporting the South African apartheid movement up until the early nineties. It’s important to get Crowley into perspective too, he was born into a wealthy family of Plymouth Brethren, an extreme branch of Christianity that is regarded by many as a cult. Being brought up in a repressive, controlling and technologically backward culture amidst the time of great wonder that was Victorian Britain he eventually began to rebel and kept rebelling for pretty much his whole life. He explored sex, drugs and the occult and then did them all at once. But then, so did the likes of Oscar Wilde, William Yeats and Arthur Machen. There wasn’t anything that remarkable in any of that at the edges of Victorian society. What was remarkable was Aleister’s gift for self promotion. If he was born into this age, he would have been a Bowie, a Kanye West or, dread the thought, a Tony Blair. Like many Victorians, Crowley was an adventurer and a famed climber, noted, amongst other things, for being one of the few people to climb up the treacherous sandy cliff face of Beachy Head, a few miles up the road from Hastings. There was an incident that got him barred from the European climbing community  where he refused to go to the aid of some stranded climbers who scaled a mountain against his advice and they all died. Does that make him evil? Or just logical? Crowley didn’t play by the rules in a society full of them and what’s more he didn’t care. This isn’t intended to be a biography on Crowley, you can find plenty of those on YouTube and they have far more detail than I can remember. I just feel that in a world of arms dealers, warmongering politicians, coked up bankers  and sex pest celebrities, dear old Crowley probably wasn’t that bad and at least he wasn’t a hypocrite.Photo 15-09-2015 16 56 33 (1)

So as far as Hastings goes, he went to prep school here, he visited the place often and when, as an impoverished, jaded and  drug addicted, old man he returned to England he washed up in the faded old seaside town and spent the last of his days in, the now demolished, Netherwood House. So in terms of connection there is enough for a blue plaque at least, a postcard, a few souvenirs?  Obviously not. So this is where  I came in with my big hand on a stick for elephant pointing out purpose, first a poster, then a painting, a card, a badge and now a t-shirt.  There are lots of hidden details in the  image I’ve created but the thing that made me chuckle more than anything was the thought of the most evil man who ever lived sat in a deckchair as an old man, a tartan blanket across his knees trying to eat an ice cream as it melted down his fingers. So in celebration of this rather cosy, comforting and all too human thought I stuck an ice cream cone on his magical hat.

Photo 16-09-2015 17 09 17 (1)The frustrating thing about getting anything done that involves other people is that achieving anything  changes from an endless string of ‘nows’ to an constant string of ‘whens?’. It’s that helpless, frustrating week or so you end up crawling up the walls waiting to see your idea become reality. I won’t use the word boredom as I don’t have to have anything boring in my life, more tedious, I guess. It’s in these moments that things can get weird. After having so much fun making the promotional video for my Clockwork Orange t-shirt I decided to make one for this too. I wanted  something akin to the Blair Witch Project, jarring, edgy and scary as hell. Perfect for promoting a seemingly cute t shirt. Erm…….. Yes……… Well………… Anyway, I did the soundtrack first, learning from the copyright issues from my last attempt at being an auteur. This involved screeching, hissing, the singing in my best Micky Mouse and Barry White voices before heavily processing the results with effects and mixing down the resultant cacophony that was once “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside” into something really nasty. Next I spent a jolly evening burning copies of the image used in positive and negative formats whilst trying not to set off the fire alarm or cause such a stench that the neighbours complained. After this the fiddly task of editing seemed like pure joy.

Photo 09-09-2015 15 08 13Now here is where things started getting really weird and complicated. I was talking to my stockist, Clive, at St Leonard’s Central and he jokingly suggested that I put the shirts I was making up for sale at the price of £16.66 as a a sly nod to Crowley’s nick name. Whilst the idea greatly amused me my, pea sized, business brain thought “hang on, I’m doing myself out of £1.44 here” and cogs slowly started whirring. My first thought was to find a vastly over inflated currency so that the exchange rate would mean that we could price up the t-shirts at 666 of whatever but the fluctating nature of the world’s financial markets made that a logistical nightmare for all involved. The next logical step was to create my own currency with a fixed exchange rate of 37 of whatever to the pound. This is how the unit of currency I called the Dweeble was created. I like the fact that I can pin down what happened next to one fixed moment because Clive’s comment led me to spend and entire week establishing the Bank of Dweebling and it’s, not exactly, legal tender. I had an amusing couple of days doing the “engraving” or more accurately cross hatching the drawings with a biro so that, when shrunk down they resemble etching followed by the usual soul crushing day of adding all the typography with photoshop before trotting off to the printers. Photo 10-09-2015 12 40 34The next problem was getting the paper to sound and feel right, the commercial printers that I use are starting to get used to my eccentric requests but I think wanting to listen to their paper was slightly pushing it even for me but it really did have to feel and sound just right. Once that task was dealt with I had a pleasant few days of “telly jobs”, I do love a telly job! The sort of semi-menial task that requires a little bit of effort but not my full concentration. There were two days spent hand tinting each note with watercolour paint , and an afternoon spent adding the pen details, an evening inventing individual names for each and every bank chairperson as each has a different signature, a nervy afternoon cutting each note to size with a scalpel and an afternoon stamping the security “foil” with a rubber stamp and silver ink. I stopped calculating the cost of materials at the thirty pound mark and the hours spent at a similar figure. Suffice to say, my wheeze to save £1.44 per t shirt has cost me somewhat more. Then again it makes the whole act of buying one of these shirts a work of art in itself, which is why I do them in the first place. You get to keep your note once you have spent it as their  unique nature makes each one effectively a gift token that can be voided without damaging them. This also means I won’t get thrown into prison for forgery, treason and a number of other rather serious crimes. After all, I wouldn’t want to be doing something evil would I?

You can buy my T shirts in the legally dubious currency of the Dweeble here  and on line in hard cash, floaty pay pal and insidious credit on etsy here.

Photo 15-09-2015 16 56 28 (1)

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