Sarah ?

February 20, 2017

Sometimes when you find out the truth it can be such a disappointment can’t it?

When you find out what is behind the lies you struggle to find something, anything, to understand why. When you realise that the truth is that there is just another sad, damaged, person in the world you just have to deal with it. It’s not like you haven’t before.

When I first read ‘Sarah’ by J.T LeRoy I, like everyone else at the time, took it at face value, a harrowing story of how someone had got away from a life of abuse and made a new and better future for themselves. Coming from my own, slightly less, messed up world it was always good to read about the ones who got away, not being dragged back into the same seething mess of humanity. Back in the dial up internet days of the 90’s, information was so sketchy and when, after two books, LeRoy disappeared it was just another mystery that couldn’t be solved.

That was until last week… The truth can be so dismal can’t it? Tucked away on the BBC iplayer is the answer to the great nineties literary mystery and truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Turns out that Sarah wasn’t written by a cross dressing gay guy with hiv but a rather disturbed middle aged woman by the name of Laura Albert. Laura ended up pretending to be her own manager at public appearances, putting on the most appalling of Dick Van Dyke British accents that I’m amazed no one saw through. People want to believe though, we like a good heartwarming story do us humans and this was no different. Laura inlisted the help of her sister in law Savannah Knoop to play JT ( Jeremiah Terminator) in public and proceeded to watch from the sidelines as He/She became drawn into a world of A list celebrity. Things got out of hand and eventually it all blew up in their faces but not before a movie was made “the heart is deceitful above all things” directed by Gus Van Saint. I got hold of a copy recently but only watched about 15 minutes before I found it too harrowing and turned it off. I couldn’t cope, I wasn’t strong enough. 

There was a lot of anger at the discovery of this literary fraud, if that’s what it was. Anger that someone pretended to be a male child prostitute and that the dead mother Sarah never even existed . Like most stories though, the truth isn’t so simple and clear cut. Laura was abused as a child, raped from an early age by a close relative and then ended up in the foster system when her mother couldn’t cope with the trauma the abuse caused. Laura started writing as therapy and started to invent new personas for herself so as to give herself a bit of respite from herself. So whilst the stories of JT LeRoy aren’t ‘the truth’ they are ‘a truth’ and I feel personally are still valid as works of literature. 

I have been privileged to, on occasion, work with adult survivors of child abuse and I admire anyone who has the courage to confront their past and deal with it in a healthy manner. My own historical woes melt into insignificance with the stories I have been told and those almost destroyed me. Sometimes the true heroes aren’t those out drawing lots of attention to themselves but those who just carry on. I can’t criticise Laura for surving, for that is what she did.

There have always been pen names in literature, often created out of a societal needs when writers of a sex, gender, race or class find it necessary to hide their identity to break through a predudice.  Why should this be any different?

So long as an assumed identity is used to help, not harm, then what is the problem?

I guess when the dust settles it will, as in most cases, be up to history to decide.

The ghosts of Christmas past: Grey town.

December 22, 2016

It’s the early 90’s and I have developed a wonderful coping mechanism for Christmas…. To get absolutely stoned out of my mind. It’s Christmas Eve, I’ve not long returned from work where so many people have gone on annual leave that the office is like the Shining but with buff folders. I’ve just had dinner and am sitting on the floor rolling the first of many spliffs. To hand are a huge stack of videos, se7en, from dusk to dawn, withnail & I, Akira… A few others…. There is also a big bag of twigglets, a few packets of fags (consulate(cool as a mountain stream )), some amber leaf rolling baccy, an eight of high oil content hashish, a quarter of grass and a family sized box of Jaffa cakes. It’s all on the floor as I intend to get so smashed that I will have trouble standing. It’s at this point that the phone rings, it’s my brother. “Chris” he never says hello or anything like that, “what are you doing?” I still regret this reply some twenty years later “urm, nothing” wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Stupid Chris!! “Good! Cozy am are outside, you can’t spend Christmas alone, you are spending Christmas with me..” 

I’d forgotten that my brother owned a mobile phone, the sort that was large and heavy enough to club a seal to death with if it took your fancy, I peeked through the curtains and there he was hovering in his black Mercedes the cliched yuppie type, he waved. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Why did I answer the phone? I hastily hid anything illegal as he parked up the car. I then threw a few things in a bag and came out before he had a chance to come in and survey the scene  and got in the now parked car. I hated that car, the suspension was eerily smooth, as we drove through the dark country roads to his home it felt like I was dead, my senses cut off by the precision engineered floatation tank of a car. He was mumbling some guff about how no one should spend Christmas alone and how we were going to have Christmas Day with his girlfriend’s family. Family is important…

Family is vile, a bit like people. One human being is fine, you can find common ground, understand what makes them tick, maybe even learn something. But people… People take sides, form aleigances, gang up, ostracise, shun, bully,  gossip, form hierachies, create leaders and minions and families? The same but more so, you are stuck with them.

The grief kicked off not long after we got there and I realised my brother’s sudden need to get reacquainted with his kid brother,  I was a one man U.N peacekeeping force. They were quite obviously going through a bad patch, there was bickering about the logistics for the next day, things bubbling under the surface as they both took up separate armchairs on different sides of the room in front of the monolithic television which blared garbage (not the band) at full volume, I think I was there to prevent the arguments boiling over in public. I couldn’t even go to my designated room as there was Christmas festivities to be had. When a fitful night’s sleep in the wrong bed finally came it was followed by a Christmas morning of little comfort and a frosty car journey. I remember wishing all the while that the car would veer off the road, Christmas in hospital would be better than this.

Grays in Essex is famous for three things, the huge and soulless lakeside shopping centre, the comedian Russell Brand and being the location of the grim funeral scene from the film Four weddings and a funeral. A grim and desolate place full of chemical processing plants, warehouses and people itching to be anywhere else, all overshaddowed by a giant bridge. As we turned into a cul-de-sac full of identical new build houses, all plasterboard and upvc, I resigned myself  to my fate. I was introduced to various people, all nice enough in their own way but instantly forgettale. I recall that Robin Hood prince of thieves was the big film that Christmas and as we were ushered around the table it still chuntered on in the background. 

Christmas dinner for me was the usual affair in the home of well meaning meat eaters, toast. As all the food was tainted by meat or meat products. I felt heat prickles of embarrassment as I sat at the table of strangers and refused the proffered potatoes roasted in animal fat and other veg served on the same dishes and utensils. I was spared the obligatory lecture on the evils of vegetarianism as the booze flowed and that morning’s argument reignited at the dinner table and the rest of the table either froze or carried on eating in embarrassed silence and minimal eye contact. All the while I thought of my dinner at home in the fridge, a pizza followed by a strawberry yogurt and a massive spliff. And now we sat, in cold silence in strange people’s company as we waited for one of the two warring parties to sober up enough for the drive home. It came many, lonely and painful hours later after  The Italian Job had played through on the television and the Queen’s speech had long passed in the presence of patriotism I can’t comprehend.

On the drive home I remember suggesting a detour to drop me home that fell on deaf ears. I was not deaf though and the slanging match that reignited was all to audible as I sat queasy in the back seats. On arriving back at my brothers home, some I ushered myself to the guest room and huddled there as world war three kicked from in the room below… Merry Christmas to all! Comfort and joy. 

I got home the next morning, dumped at the train station, I got through the door and got instantly smashed… 

It is said that pain plus distance equals comedy, but over twenty years later that Christmas is still as funny as cancer. 


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.

 Sexy books

June 11, 2016

Books are so damn sexy! Or should that be sensual? Perhaps a bit of both… One of the most attractive things I find in a partner, in my case women, is brains. “Mmmmm…. You have a sexy brain!” Perhaps not the best chat up line ever. Good looks and lovely hair help too, but it’s the knowledge, a burning fire of a mind that gives me the horn as Dudley Moore would have said. 

Books are such lovely things, they have weight, they have texture and most importantly they have smell. They are very real things and deserve treating with respect. 

I have a lot of books and while some are old friends that you know inside out, all battered and falling apart with bits dropping off (sounds like me before my heart op) others just sit there, daring you to go near them.

Some books are like shitty friends, they lurk around my flat glaring at me accusatorially because I am not giving them my constant and undivided attention. Haruki Murakame’s 1q84 is one of those, I struggled through book one and now books two through six sit here wondering why I haven’t been near them yet. And then there are the books that merrily swallow up your time, eating up the precious seconds of your life and giving you nothing in return, shiny titled airport novels are best avoided as are their human equivalent.

Whenever I meet someone new I subtlety check out their book collection, you can learn so much in a very short space of time and if someone doesn’t have any books at all… Run! Run away as fast as you can. And if they have a library of entirely self help books, back away slowly and get out of there.

I have to admit though, I am reading a self help book at the moment, the infamous “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” Or as I am learning to call it “every stupid thing that Chris does wrong, you muppet!” I would like to think it would help me somehow but at the moment it just mocks me from its hideous, American grade,  wood pulp pages.

I wish I had more time for my books, I read a bit sitting on the beach on sunny days, kidding myself I am actually on holiday, but mostly it’s a little bit late at night before nodding out with a book on my chest and my glasses still on. They have the right idea in Cuba where they employ readers in their cigar factories, someone to impart knowledge, culture, whatever, to the people beavering quietly away. That would be lovely, that would, someone to read while I work away at a drawing or whatever. 

I have many art books, I keep them in a bookcase where I can view their spines whilst lying in bed. I find their presence strangely comforting, a bit like the childhood teddy looking down on me from atop a cupboard. There is only one thing nicer to wake up to, but sadly I have to make do with the books and I certainly won’t be bringing them a cup of tea in the morning. Anyway, I digress, I use an awful lot of visual reference material, there used to be a time when if I needed an image I would have to go and find it in a book and sometimes I would have to go out and buy one just to get hold of a photograph or an illustration. Now, I just type, sea dragon, electron microphotography, Caravagio or whatever into Google and up it all pops.  Don’t even have to leave my seat, I’ve got a bit lazy and crap with this, I have to admit. Then the other day I was trying to find William Blake’s images of lucifer for a painting project. I try with my work to draw from as larger frame of reference as I can, from classical, through trashy popular culture and into the obscurest of things I can find, I only wish I could read Chinese and Japanese , things would get really interesting then. 

Anyway, I got off my bottom and made it over to the bookcase to find my complete illustrated Blake (like you do). Then, the weirdest of things happened, I found a big book on Richard Dadd that I couldn’t remember owning or even buying for that matter.  Dadd is perhaps the most infamous of the “locked up and left to paint” crew for which I have dubious envy. He took a fit in his head one day, got on a coach, took a journey of a day or so, found his dad and stabbed him in the head and then murdered a total stranger just for good measure. He was spared the noose which awaited him as his family had money and influence, which went a long way in Victorian England, and he instead was confined to a private mental hospital where over many years he created a handful of the most detailed, obsessive and intricate of paintings. 

How on earth did I forget I had this book? What else is lurking that I have forgotten about? Another two books arrived this week, an odd London detective novel and a book by Jon Ronson where he meets people who have made a total arse of themselves in public, quite apt I thought after my recent descent into mental ill health for which I still get filthy looks most days. How will I ever catch up? I dream of owning a home with a proper library. Knackered leather armchairs a brass and wood ladder on runners so as to reach the highest shelves, a many leafed aspydistra in a big blue and white Victorian plant pot and big Tiffany lamps to read by as the sun sets over the sea…. Dream on I say, dream on. 

Back from the dead

March 29, 2016

    It’s been a strange few months in my world.  A period of general awfulness punctuated by an emergency hospital stay. The appalling level of strain I was under by rights should have killed me as the main artery of my heart was 94% blocked.  A brush with death makes you take a good hard look at yourself and your life and it gave me a need to try and make sense of a lot of the appalling things that have happened to me lately. I’ve contemplated death repeatedly and it has given me a need to value what I do with the life I have left. I know this will sound dramatic but in a way, I am in extra time now as people (not I ) who understand sport would say and I really don’t want to waste that on anything pointless. Once I got home I started thinking about  the bible and of the religious imagery that has found its way into churches ever since. I am not at all a religious person and, if anything, the invasive nature of the procedure to fit stents, the effects of the dyes on my vision and watching my own heart beating beneath my rib cage. It looked more like plumbing than the work of some bearded guy in the sky. 
  Hearts are important in the bible and so is the notion of coming back from the dead. I mean that is the basic idea isn’t it. Lead a shit painful, miserable and short mortal life and then you get gifted with a world of la la fluffiness and pixie dust when you die. The thing is though, I did almost die and I guess seeing as I now have reinforced helixes of metal shoring up my heart I guess we are talking Lazurus and Jesus territory here. Please note, I am taking all this with a HUGE pinch of salt here and I have in no way gone all messianic but the notion of a stented sacred heart fits soooooo nicely. Well, it was either that or Frankenstine’s monster and give me a halo rather than a bolt through my neck any day of the week. Plus, I always wanted to have a proper go at gilding, which was endless hour’s of fun. I didn’t do that good a job of it but, hey ho, it all adds to the charm. So, Erm, hallelujah! Happy Easter!   

Back in (the) Love (cafe) again.

February 7, 2016

P1020954I’m back in love. Yay! No, this isn’t some sickly pre Valentines Day post where I’m plugging my wares to all those lovers young and old. (Although prints, t-shirts and painting make wonderful gifts 😉  ) Sadly, and completely not of my choosing, I will be very much single this year. Cue violins.   Anyway, When I say I’m in Love, I mean the Love Cafe in St Leonards on Sea. Not to be confused with Japan’s Love hotels, which are, erm, a very different kettle of sushi.

DSC05779My relationship with this place started when the original owners Rosie and Ed bought a teddy bear I made from me some 8 or so years ago. It was a Viking bear I believe Sven? Eric? Something like that. It was not that long after that I got a call from Ed, He was taking over and old print works and turning it into an art gallery / craft market and was looking people who made really nice stuff to show their wares. When I did put some bears in, I cagily took down a folio of paintings. I thought they’d hate them, most people did back then, but no. They loved them!

So I put some paintings in and I even sold one. Then, as a lot of things do in St Leonards, plans changed and it became The Love Cafe. I was going through a bad patch a little later and I really needed to get some focus and direction into my life. I decided to commit myself to a serious task and that was to produce a version of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress as both painting and etchings (well, biro drawings to be exact).BWthe prison I’ve found it’s so much easier in life to let one’s self down than it is other people. Personal goals can slide by and we look up and we are years older and “that thing” never got done. So I took a deep breath (and and NHS confidence building workshop) and I went and asked Ed if he would let me put up A Rake’s Progress and I even got him to book a date. There we go! I would be letting someone else down then, I had to do it. It went quite well and I even did a version in booklet form including the story in 18th Century pros. I even got it in the Soane’s Museum after that( The booklet, not the drawings sadly). When I had my first solo gallery show it was Ed and Rosie who bought enough of my paintings to cover my costs. P1020970I would often have a painting or two on display in their cafe though. It’s a loyalty thing. By the time they sold up and moved on I was starting to do more high profile shows, such as the one in the prestigious Towner Gallery in Eastbourne but I took time out at the end of last year to do a photographic face through for them at their new venue in Hastings’ Observer Building. Then came an interesting email via one of my agents. The new owners of The Love Cafe were wondering if I would put some work in there. I was a little wary at first, wondering if it would be a backwards step, going from the Towner and solo shows to having work in a cafe. Then I met them and the new owners Sharon and Colin were lovely. Plus I got bribed by the loveliest hot chocolate, with little pink and white marshmallows floating in it and I was sold. There was one condition though, I wanted to absolutely cover the place. Complete Dweebling takeover. It’s lovely to cover a large space, the scary thing is though, I could have done it three times over. I do hope people actually buy a few paintings or else I may need to invest in a lock up.

You can see the work and have some fabulous food and drinkies and the Love Cafe, Norman road, St Leonards on Sea from now to the beginning of May. Further details Here.



Did someone drop a clanger?

June 17, 2015

clangersA couple of days ago I watched the first new episode of the Clangers for many decades. Suspicious, to say the least, of any reboot for classic children’s shows from my childhood. I have to admit, I didn’t actively hate this one. When I first watched it though, I was convinced that they were cgi as the knitting doesn’t look quite right. I have the dubious privilege of having a degree in knitting (well Constructed Textiles to be exact) and I first believed that the knitting was a texture map wrapped around a cgi model, but on further research and a second viewing it is just that it is far too neat. The shaping and sewing up are done far too well, with the increasing done using a fancy knitting into the back of the stitch from the row below that Mrs Firmin had never heard of. I also suspect that the armatures are too fancy compared to the Meccano and wooden block sub-frames used in  the original series. clangerselfieEverything moves too smoothly and there are none of the strings and other details that made the original series feel so real. Whilst the actual animation is stop motion, everything else looks like its either been done or fixed in post. Also, the penny whistle voices aren’t distorted enough and the soundtrack sounds far too similar to that of the Nintendo game Pikmin. Whilst I think a new generation of little children will love it, I couldn’t help feel that there is something missing. Actually, it turned out that something was added. People. There were far too many people involved now, the first series had ridiculously short end credits, Oliver Postgate, Peter Firmin and Mrs Firmin (who did the knitting). This new series has multiple episodes produced at once, with a strings of people, animating, editing, scoring, knitters, prop makers, ya de ya de ya deh… And this is where it went wrong as usual. Necessity, as the old saying goes, is the mother of invention. Postgate and Firmlin, under the title Smallfilms, learnt on the job using whatever was to hand and whatever got the job done. From real time filming with magnets, through to building stop motion camera rigs with home built timing mechanism made from Meccano. They filmed their first stop motions in black and white, in daylight in Postgate’s back garden a side affect of which being that the grass of the lawn would dance eerily as they moved back and forth to minutely adjust each character model. Whenever I can, I go and visit the original Clangers in Canterbury Museum, my main port of call though is Bagpus around the corner. There is a strange aura that emanates from Bagpus Bagpus, the fat, furry, catpus. The nearest I can get to describing this is how one might have felt in the middle ages from being in the presence of a holy relic, a saint’s finger or a piece of Christ’s true cross. The love of millions of children, all poured into one (not so) soft toy. Excepting for Mother Clanger, who had to be replaced when the original one was stolen, there is only one Bagpus, there was only one of each Clanger, Not so now… I had a lovely conversation yesterday about the perils of letting go of full artistic control. It has been suggested by many people that I farm out the production of what I do to an intern or three even farm out the colouring-in books to a publisher that would do the job “properly”. The problem with doing things properly, efficiently, economically, whatever, is that the charm goes with it. That feeling that a human has scratched their head over how to do a thing without the fanciest equipment, the best software or unlimited opportunities to re-do  something or conversely that the dead hands of accountants, lawyers, marketing consultants and other ‘experts’ are steering the ship rather than person the who came up with the idea in the first place. But without all that ‘help’ things take longer and less is done, 13 episodes in the case of the original Bagpus series and 27 of The Clangers, but what less is is definitely worth more. bagpuss

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