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!
I like cake! Who doesn’t? It’s one of the marvels of the world. Flour, egg, sugar, oven… Joy! So when I was toying with the idea of doing my own version of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress the word cake instantly popped into my head and it gave me a cracking excuse to put a cake into every picture. Anyway, before I start explaining about my take on the pictures, I guess I should say a little bit about the original artist.
Hogarth was a printmaker who worked his way up from poverty and became one of the 18th Century’s most celebrated artists. As well as painting portraits, Hogarth became well known for producing series’ of paintings that told a story, usually with a moral message. He would then reproduce these paintings as prints which could be sold on mass to a much wider market than the few who could afford to buy original paintings. It is important to mention that these images were moral in these sense that a tabloid newspaper could be regarded as moral i.e gratuitously describing sex, scandal and intrigue to in a salacious and entertaining manner whilst at the time criticising it. One of his best know of these morality tales was the A Rake’s Progress, the story of Thomas Rakeswell, a foolish young man who who inherits and squanders a fortune and the Sarah, the young woman who loves him and is dragged down with him. For all the pictures in this sequence I first produced a painting in colour using acrylics (I’m way too lazy to use oils) and then I did my version of an etching in biro just to see if I could.
In the first panel Rakeswell, or in this case Bakeswell, inherits a fortune from his miserly father. I needed to set this piece in the house of famous skinflint, I chose the set of Steptoe and Son, remade in America as Sanford and Son, a little know fact that swung this decision for me was that Harry H Corbet, the son Harooooolllllllllddddd! (sorry Harold Steptoe) was from Hastings, where I live and a running feature through much of my work. The cake theme in this image is pretty obvious, being stacked up on the tables and being in many of the portraits. The father’s underpaid accountant is also pocketing a crafty cupcake if you look carefully. On the table in the background rests a motorbike helmet, my version of a memento mori in this case telling us that the father has died. As it pays to advertise, through the open door I have placed a hatstand bearing a selection of scarves I used to make in a previous life when I was a textile and knitwear designer. For much the same reason I have tucked away teddies in most of the works as I also make handmade bears from time to time. Plug, over! The most pivotal thing about this picture though, as far as I’m concerned, is that it includes the first ever sad Dweebling. It was a tricky rule to break (believe it or not there are a sort of set of rules to what I do) but there was no way of getting around this in this set of images. The glum figure to the left of frame with the hanky is Sarah, who has, erm, a bun in the oven. She is being bought off by Thomas for the princely sum of a cupcake. What a lovely chap! Hopefully you have noticed that there is an extra lady in the painting to the ‘etching’, as with Hogarth’s works I have varied details between the etchings and the paintings, I’m not sure why Hogarth did this but my reason is a combination of boredom and or laziness. For each of the panels I also wrote the accompanying story in 17th – 18th century english (or my best attempt at it.) You can purchase your own copy here you lucky thing you! Anyway, that’s all for now. C x
This is the last part of my series explaining the ideas and images behind my interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrations. The last four pictures tell the story around the goings on in the courthouse. It begins with The Mad Hatter giving his evidence, dripping tea and jam. His hat has flourished into a creation inspired by Mad King Ludvig of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein castle. Ludvig bankrupted his country with his grandiose programme of castle building and it is strongly believed that he was murdered by his own people in an effort to save their country from disaster.
In The Jury Box Alice suddenly undergoes another growth spurt, catapulting her fellow jurors into the air. The birds based on cult Japanese Anime Science Ninja Gatchaman (G-force) make another appearance as they do in the penultimate panel, The King Hears The Evidence where a bored king, mimicking a pose struck by Alex in the Korova Moloko Bar at the beginning of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. His costume is a reference to a magical mystical Dweebling I used in show some year’s back who was in turn based of a Japanese Shinto priest. There is a direct reference to Nintendo’s Mario games in the Knave of Hearts of ball and chain which is a game character know as a chomp. The Final illustration of the book is Why, You’re Just a pack of cards. Where Alice is back to her normal size and all the characters in the book are just common or garden animals again. The cards spiral out of the picture with a Vietnam War version of an ace of spades death card in prominent position.
When I was a small child in the 1970’s I loved television. I mean really loved television, not just the programmes on it. I used to sit a foot away so the screen swallowed my world. I loved the way that if I leaned forward, the static would make my hair stand on end. We were lucky enough to own a colour t.v and, excuse the grossness, when I sneezed the beads of, erm, moisture would make the image break down into primary colours in a mesmerising way. Televisions had ‘play’ value back then, some had little shutters you could pull across to cover the screen and others had doors that opened and many would have little fold out shade affairs that were designed to stop sunlight spoiling the picture. Nowadays one would just pull the curtains closed, but the 1970’s were more civilised times I guess… If you ignored the terrorist attacks, strikes and riots that is. With video recorders being an extreme rarity, television was a shared experience, programmes would become events that would be talked about in playgrounds, offices and the like and if you missed them, that was it, they were gone. I distinctly remember drilling death rays of hate into numerous aunties and uncles who had the misfortune of appearing during a favourite programme, at which point one of my parents would unforgivably turn down the volume or, horror of horrors, turn the television off. There were vast tracts of time during the day when there was nothing on the television but the test card (an image with I have made my own)
and I would have had to do something awful like go out and play or, heaven forbid, go to school. I hated school! I really, really hated school, the sadistic teachers, the bullies and most of all the itchy trousers. I could never concentrate due to the horrible worsted wool trousers my mother used to make me wear. Maybe that is why I ended up training as a textile designer.
Whilst I didn’t like school, I did like school’s television, particularly when I was allowed to stay at home for the day I loved Look and Read but the thing that stuck in my mind most of all was Picture Box and, in particular, one particular film that used to be shown on the programme , The Red Balloon. I didn’t know this then, being about 7 years old, but the Red Balloon or Le Ballon Rouge to give it it’s correct title, was a film by director Albert Lamorisse which won the 1956 Palm d’Or for the best short film. It tells the story of a small boy who finds a red balloon which seems to have a mind of it’s own and follows him through the streets of Paris.
Watching it as an adult, not only is it still an engaging piece of filmmaking and storytelling, it also shows the damage done by WWII on one of the world’s more beautiful cities. All of this was lost on me back then, it just left me with an enduring image of a small boy with a red balloon as a friend and the hazy notion that if you grab hold of enough balloon’s you will take to the sky. When I started drawing the Dweeblings back in around 1998 the first balloon boy appeared in perhaps the second or third painting. The whole idea of the Dweeblings was that they were my avatars, they could go places that I never could which for someone who suffers from severe anxiety problems was pretty much everywhere.
So flying away on a balloon seemed as likely to me as a walk down to the corner shop most days. The boy with the balloon has since featured in a large number of my works and is also the star of The Dweebling Who Lost His Smile, my children’s story book. Sometimes though, this balloon rider takes on a more sinister tone, the addition of elements of a Freddy Krueger costume. The notion of a character who’s right hand is a glove full of knives holding something as fragile as a balloon is a reminder of the fragility of one’s position on this planet. Still, as a momento mori it is quite a jolly one. By a strange coincidence, on my way to the private view for my last show, I opened my front door to discover a red balloon floating outside my door. Who’s know where it had been and who had flown in on it.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a blog about my Alice illustrations, I’ve been stupidly busy with this and that and whatnot and I haven’t really had the time. But lucky for you dear reader (not for myself) I have managed to knacker my back. So whilst recreating my own low budget version of Misery I am forced to take to my bed and write, dirty birdy that I am. The next few pictures that I am going to write about are those featuring the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. For these characters, my main inspiration was a programme I remembered watching as a child, Fingerbobs, where a funny bearded old man (probably much younger that I am now) made creatures from gloves, paper and bits of string.
When I thought about the mock turtle’s shell the character Flash the tortoise sprang to mind and, once on that theme, the paper cone mice seemed a perfect replacement for the Gryphon’s talons. Both characters feature legs from pantomime animals and the Mock Turtle’s arms are scuba diver’s flippers, I distantly remember sticking a pair on my hands and flapping them around a when I was a kid , until I got told off that is.
There are various hidden details in The Mock Turtle’s Tale, The pirate ship and the balloon boy are from my children’s book The Dweebling Who Lost His Smile, the balloon boy has a much longer history though, which really needs a blog on it’s own. Also tucked away on the horizon is the Royal Sovereign lighthouse of the east sussex coast near Bexhill and Eastbourne, which has featured in many of my paintings as well as being the subject of one of them. The swirly wave pattern is stolen from the video game, The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker, where the sea is drawn in a highly stylised cell animation manner.
The Smile Electrodes came about as part of The Kings and Queen’s of Kings Road at the Kave gallery. A series of paintings I did a couple of years ago, celebrating some of the local characters who inhabit St Leonards on Sea where I live. The inspiration for this particular painting being the Vile Electrodes, a locally based gem of a band with an international following. The Viles, comprising, of Jane Caley aka Anais Neon and Martin Swan create beautiful electronic music using a vast array of vintage synthesisers. What I wanted to do with all the paintings in this series was to capture a fantasy version of all the cool people that pass anonymously through my local environment. When I bump into Jane or Martin, it is usually in the local co-op or grocers or somewhere equally banal, so I wanted to put them very solidly “On stage”. The stage in question is shamelessly lifted from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with costumes stolen from Barbarella. The names of the synths are all terrible puns, Korg becomes Borg, Yamaha, YamaHa-ha-ha and Bontempi, Bontempee but the worst pun of all is the visual one for the Moog, which becomes the dog of the same name from cult eighties cartoon ‘Willo the Wisp’, voiced by Kenneth Williams.
You can check out the Vile Electrodes’ fabulous music here :-https://soundcloud.com/vile-electrodes and buy their CDs and merchandise here :- http://vileelectrodes.bigcartel.com and their Facebook page is here :- https://www.facebook.com/vileelectrodes
Ok, I admit it, I’m an idiot!
There! I said it.
So now that I have established my stupidity, I shall explain why.
It started yesterday morning. I made the foolish mistake of getting up early and compounded this stupidity by trying to break the habit of a lifetime and doing the washing up. Wrong! In a series of events reminiscent of the board game “Mousetrap” I managed to catapult my wok into the air and knock over a Whittard’s pasta bowl with the sleeve of my dressing gown. The bowl would have safely bounced on carpet covered linoleum but for the wok crashing into it like a downed U.F.O.
Now I have major issues when it comes to kitchenware, I have something akin to an allergic reaction to ugly crockery. Take Illy coffee cups for instance,(or rather don’t) they are one of the most hideous pieces of design on the planet. They have this little round handle that is impossible to get your fingers through unless you are of lilliputian proportions. So now I had a sum total of one, very lovely, bowl left and a dilemma at hand. My girlfriend was coming ’round for dinner that night and I had precisely one wobbly (pasta, stir fry etc.) food receptacle.
So the dilemma was… I needed two bowls, two aesthetically pleasing bowls. How hard could that be?
It turned out that the answer was… Very.
My first plan was to head for T.K Maxx, which is on the outskirts of nowhere rather than the middle but a pain to get to none-the-less. On the way, I passed my favourite little Chinese food store and made a mental note that they had some quite decorative knick-knacks on show. When I arrived at my destination I discovered precisely… nothing. Well, not quite nothing, but the wares on show were so nauseatingly tasteful as to bring me out in a rash. The queasy feeling in my stomach was telling me that I had made a bit of a cock up and I should have walked into town, which was now a four mile walk in the other direction. Loath to do this, I trudged in that direction, pondering the thought of rummaging about in the St Leonards charity shops for something suitable. I balked at this as, and I suspect I will get into trouble with this, I am totally sick to death with anything vintage. When I hear the word ‘vintage crockery’ my brain instantly translates the phrase to ‘smelly old tat’ and I think of all the meals some wee smelling, cat collecting, old lady had ate from them before finally using them to serve up wobbly horse and kangaroo offal to her darling moggies, before she died alone and they ate her.
It was then that I hit upon the idea of checking out the bits and bobs on sale in the Chinese food store. Jackpot! Gathering dust in the corner were some rather delightful blue and white bowls, not the usual willow pattern but a slightly fuzzy transfer print of a koi carp at the tempting price of £4.75 eat. Result!
A niggling thought started to take hold when I got home and soon promoted itself to a fully fledged gnaw. Chinese restaurant bowls are all well and good for stir fries and the like but would look plain daft for serving up pasta. So I sat on my sofa, staring at the half finished painting that I was supposed to be doing and felt myself gravitate to my computer and then to eBay. My initial search for pasta bowls had 8000 results, reduced to around 2000 by adding ‘new’ to criteria. After trawling through the first twenty pages of assorted bowls before spotting a pattern… Debenhams outlet store kept popping up whenever anything took my fancy. I almost bought a couple online there and then but the delivery details said ‘other courier’ which means some poor sod would be trailing up and down the road for an age before taking it back to the depot for some other poor sod to look up on google maps as my home is totally hidden from sight to all but the most persistent delivery person. Basically, I wanted pasta bowls and I wanted them NOW! (THEN! ???)
So here were the the facts as I saw them. The nice bowls were all on the Debenhams eBay store, the Debenhams delivery was a pain, there was a Debenham’s in Hastings a twenty minute walk away. So although I already had jelly legs from that morning’s outing, I figured that I would just end up stewing, thinking of what ceramic wonders I was missing out on by staying at home and actually doing something useful, like painting.
So off I went again! a swift walk down a hill, knowing that would be followed by a long trudge up a hill back home again. And low and behold, there was a sale on, woohoo! The Hastings Debenhams is a bit of a higgledy piggledey old department store type affair, not quite Grace Brothers but going that way. I eventually found the tableware section tucked away down a maze of labyrinthine aisle and located the crockery. Things suddenly got very complicated as all the bowls looked vastly different from their online photos and the ones I liked on-line looked hideous in real life. Plus some bright spark had left two Point-of-Sale video displays chuntering away to themselves right next to each other. Being dyspraxic, one of these on its own would be hard enough to cope with but two together is a nightmare. So I stared at bowls while video A tried to sell me on the virtues of some new non stick pans and video B tried to sell me a magic choppy uppy things machine and all I could hear was an amalgamation of the two, magic choppy uppy pans that wouldn’t stick to your smoothies and soups. Well I eventually got them, avoiding all the chef and designer branded crap (Since when did Jamie, self righteous git, Oliver do pottery?) some gorgeous Denby stoneware with a deep blue glaze. Mmmmmm. And did the walk/climb home again. So mission accomplished, two pairs of lovely bowls and a day totally wasted. I am an idiot!
And if you needed further proof…
A couple of years ago Japanese art behemoth Takashi Murakami made a film, Mememe no Kurage or, in English, Jellyfish Eyes. The plot of which was totally lost on me, even after watching the trailer which, strangely enough for a Japanese film, was in Japanese. After a couple of years, during which its existence bugged me from time to time, it became apparent that it would not be getting a uk release. But whenever I looked on the net, the cheapest option was £27 for a dvd, about five times what I’d usually pay for a dvd. How on earth can I justify that?
Well… My thinking was this. A few years before Murakami released dvd animated shorts starring his characters Kaikai and Kiki. That dvd now sells for around £100. So… I’m saving money. Honest guv! So I bought it and it got stuck in customs, costing me another £13. So in the end it cost me £40, for a dvd with neither a english audio track or english audio subtitles but it did have stickers so,erm, yay!
So in case you are interested the plot is roughly this, Pokemon type Murakami creatures that unknowingly draw energy from their owners to help create a really big monster which gets squished by all the little monsters working as a team. It cost me forty quid to find that out so yup! I’m a total idiot!