Only human

May 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Abandon all hope…

January 8, 2017

I’ve been sitting watching The Last Five Years, a documentory on what David Bowie did in the last five years of his life. Well, I say sitting, I’ve been dotting and darting around picking up things, binning others, squirting polish, wiping things down and generally making my home looking sane(ish) and presentable, for a writer and a photographer to come ’round and do a piece on me. I am still laughing at the idea, weeks after I was asked.

I’m am a single 46 year old single man with no children and less than perfect mental and physical health. I’ve achieved quite a few marginally cool things whilst simultaneously failing to do some of the quite basic stuff, like hold down a ‘proper job’, have a family and collect a lot of trappings of a ‘normal’ life along the way. That said, I am in a far better place than I was at this time last year and I can look back with a small sense of achievement at how I managed to take any adversity that was thrown at me and turn it into something more positive. I can say with all honesty that I could probably say the same at the end of every given year for the last decade or so, although to be fare, I did have an awful lot of catching up to do compared to anyone with a modecum of brains or talent at this point in their life.

It’s frustrating losing it all like I did in my late twenties, losing my mind, my job, my friends, my home and pretty much everything else. I became vulnerable to exploitation,  addiction and debt. Most people who drop that far either kill themselves or slip into living on the streets. The only thing that prevented this was a stubbornness at my core that made me dig my fingernails into the rock face of the metaphorical cliff that I had gone over. I have to keep telling myself this over and over again and trying not to be that hard on myself. This isn’t helped though by living in a town where so many people of my age who took the safe option of either getting cushy jobs in the public sector, or hitching themselves to a monied partner, rewriting their back stories to include arty backgrounds that never really existed. It takes guts and real strength of character to follow your own path in this world and getting a few tattoos, some alternative looking clothes and a silly hairdo doesn’t  cover up the fact that you spent your working life trying to get good performance appraisals and higher pay grades. I don’t suffer fools gladly either, all those people who have it all handed to them on a plate and yet still manage to screw things up for themselves and other, or worse still, those that are so unaware of the consequences of their actions and  make life horrible for everyone else in the process. 

The thing is, how do you deal with things when you are so far behind the rest of the runners in the race of life? Whenever I have had dealings with the mental health services, they are always keen to tell me than life is not a competition and that I should ease up on myself , maybe meditate a bit, do some yoga, go on a mindfulness course… Yes…. Well… That might work in the short term to alleviate  the strain on a fragile mind but in the long term, if you have any sense of self respect or any ambition, all it will leave you with is a situation where you will look back with dissatisfaction at an unfulfilled life and a financial situation where you will feel like a sitting duck, waiting for every small problem to blow up in your face through lack of resources. In other words, you are being told to give up, let the world wash over you and just drift along between every disaster going, always in reaction mode, always falling that much further behind. 

It is said that across the gates of hell is written “abandon all hope all ye who enter here.” I never have, well not for at least a decade or so. I no longer let things slide, I no longer allow things that would have eaten into my self esteem or self confidence slip past me anymore. I have been accused of being bitter as when someone does something hurtful, I do not let it drop but instead either address or redress the issue, neither will I let people who should know better to get away with shitty treatment of other people anymore. Personally I regard that as a positive act, celebrating healthy self esteem. I might stew on a situation but in the end I always use that bad energy as rocket fuel to do something good with. Like the time I took an attempt by a local narcissist to try an put me down in public and turned it into a painting that found its way into a prestigious art show. I hasten to add that I did it for me though, we can only really change ourselves, someone that far gone has invested so much in their own delusions that they are impossible to fix, you can only avoid them. Revenge is useless but cleansing that bad energy and using it for good is a positive and ultimately healthy act. I would hate to have to look back on my life and only see a string of horrible things done to me that I haven’t addressed and a string of situations where I have ended up being subservient to others, that would indeed be hell.

I really admire people like David Bowie or Dennis Potter who kept on going to the bitter end and I truly hope I die in the middle of making some art, still making art to my last breath. I watch all the human detritus sitting outside my favourite cafe each morning with utter scorn and contempt as they hark on for hours on end about what they used to do and who they used to be. I’m only interested in now and tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, as long as my health and sanity allow. This could well be our only go at life and if we waste that on not doing anything constructive, that surely is a hell-worthy sin.

The next thing

September 2, 2016

Somewhere, out there, the world is going on and in Hastings and St Leonards that world is all about seeking attention and doing bizz. It’s the official start of the coastal currents arts festival and everyone but me it seems is out there celebrating  and getting noticed and, let’s face it, in all likelihood getting off their face in some way or other. It’s strange though, the weather has turned on a six pence and whereas a few days ago I was sitting on a beach, now the cold bites and the rain blatters against the windows and here I sit, at 8.30 on a Friday night, in my pyjamas after a hot bath, waiting to go to bed. 

I have long ceased going to private views and long ceased having my own. In a world that thrives on fleeting celebrity and instant gratification, I am cursed it seems with an old fashioned notion of meritocracy, that a person should gain attention and recognition by attaining a level of excellence in their field rather than by playing to the lowest common denominator or jumping up and down and shouting louder and more offensively that anyone else. I suspect, should I leave the house tonight I would be proved very wrong indeed. 

I have never wanted attention, I have never seen the value in it but then it’s always been about the work for me and to be honest, once a thing is finished, it holds no more interest to me as I’m on to the next thing whatever that may be. I am very concious that I am in that position right now, looking for the next thing. 

That’s another reason I’m staying in tonight, the cyclical nature of the town I live in depresses me greatly and the arts festival is just another gaudily painted horse on the merrygoround with the same old riders on its back. I am quite aware that I am yet again biting the fingers of the hands that feed me off at the knuckles but I am showing this year in a way that puts me at as much distance from the punters as possible. I hope that doesn’t come off as rude but whilst everything I have done over the last six months has great meaning to me, I am done with it and I want to do the next thing. 

Last time I put this amount of effort into a solo show, the crash was exhausting. I spent a week lying in bed, barely moving. I feel old right now, my whole body aches and I feel like collapsing, it’s  hard to tell though, just how much of this is post show malaise and how much is my illness and the side affects of the medication. I am running an illustration workshop tomorrow which I am both dreading and looking forward to in equal measures the dread comes from it being in Hastings and having to engage with parts of humanity that leave me cold. I must note that the bulk of people anywhere are usually quite lovely but the ones who aren’t are like wasps trapped in a car that is speeding down a motorway, making way more trouble than they should do. It will be nice to engage with a few kids though and anyone else who genuinely wants to try something new. But when the clock hits four tomorrow I know that I have two choices, either hit the motherlode of cortisol  come downs or start the next thing sharpish and change down a gear into steady work and research. 

You see I want to do some scroll paintings based on the classic Chinese folk tales centred around monkey, a chinese mythical figure. Many of my age will remember a rather camp Japanese show back in the 1970s but the stories go back many hundreds of years and liken the Chinese heaven to a sort of demented civil service full of sniping and back biting gods. I know nothing of scroll painting and that is the point, it’s the new thing, the next thing and I shall be well outside my comfort zone and I will feel alive. 

But in the meantime, the show goes on and whilst it is all in the past to me, hopefully some less jaded eyes shall see something new.

You can see my new work at the love cafe, Norman road, , st leonards on sea, throughout September. 

Don’t Panic! 

August 29, 2016

Tick tock, tick bloody tock.

I’m lying here listening to the clock. Concious of the time, concious of my heart beating in my chest. The heart that has caused me so much trouble this year and that has been the inspiration for my art show. The art show into which I have invested so much time and money and effort. I feel very lonely at this moment, it’s too early and the world is asleep. It’s a bank holiday Monday and almost everyone else is going to make the most of it, having lie ins, seeing family and friends, catching up with all those things they never get around to doing. I’m just lying in bed, a cold feeling in my chest, feeling helpless. So much is beyond my control, the prints that need packing are probably sitting on the jobs completed table at the printers, behind the standard st leonards issue metal bars across the doors. My tea towels, so lovingly designed, so much time spent by me getting them just right are in potential somewhere in the ether, screen made up but never inked, waiting in line in a warehouse. My pride and joy just job number whatever on the list amidst a sea of corporate branding and signage that someone, not me, has to do. But not today, today is the dead day. To me, time is meaningless, there is no clock to clock off from, no Monday blues, no Wednesday hump day, no piss off early tomorrow’s saturday. Just and endless stream on ideas and an endless stream of now. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! 

I shall get up in a minute, I need to make a point of sale, possibly two, more picture labels, do a stock check, work out a packing order, hanging order, think about where people are more likely to knock into things and place canvas’s there rather than glass frames. Think, what is seen first when someone walks in and what will leave an impression when they walk out again. Knowing all the while deep down that this is a large cafe rather than the Hayward or the Tate, that inner Hitler in me, the primadonna, the inflated ego, the potential for frustration and embitteredness kept in check by my sense of humour want more control of their environment, want the money and the clout to get things done now, bigger, better. More!

 I need to focus on how far I have come, from gibbering wreck, to shut in, to a stranger in a strange town, to doing this , to doing that, feet on the ground Chris, feet on the ground. I must get up now, much to do, I have put the day off for too long. 

And the value of nothing.

August 20, 2016

How do you value a work of art? There are so many different schools of thought. So many variables…

I have spent the last couple of days pricing up paintings and drawings for my coastal currents show. In the past I have often priced artwork intentionally high, knowing that it won’t sell. The theory being this… If you put your artwork up for sale and no one buys any of it then it is incredibly demoralising. Particularly if you have put your heart and soul into those pieces. If you put ridiculously high (well for a poverty stricken seaside town in the middle of a recession) prices on them, you can say that the reason they didn’t sell is because no one can afford your wares and not because the potential buyers find the work aesthetically wanting in some way. 

It’s a scary thing putting yourself out there, especially if your work has a meaning and a story behind it. It soon becomes a personal rejection of you as a human being if you don’t find ways to distance yourself from, well… let’s face it, your children. Art is an act of creation and you put so much of yourself into your work, or you should do, that it is hard judge the value of art you have made. Why should this one be more than that? Because it’s bigger? Because it’s prettier? Because it took longer? Because the materials were more expensive? Should we judge our own family by those standards? I do hope not. 

But for the last couple of days I have been doing just that, weighing up banal factors such as, if a painting goes past a certain size, say that of the average flat screen tv, the amount of people with the space to hang it drops severely as does the price. Also, you may labour for days on a technically accomplished piece of work but if it doesn’t go well against the current fad of wallpaper, paint colour or whatever, then it has no value. If you are a known artist with an established name, then a work of a deeply personal value has more worth but if you are someone that people simply don’t get then your work has merely a value as decoration. 

For this show, I am pricing to sell, it’s a little on the high side for local trade but as there is a strong story to it all (the matter of my near brush will death) I am hoping that will shine through. I am taking a leap of faith… I just hope it isn’t straight off a cliff.

The strange thing is, I just added it all up. A total of forty works of art, all produced since the beginning of April, all telling the story in some way of my experience as a frail, fragile and all too mortal human being. I added them all up and it came to somewhere around £9000, to me that is a king’s ransom, a life changing amount of money. To others that is less that half a year’s wages and to the likes of a few coked up celebrities, bloated bankers and pea brained footballers that is a week’s spending money. It takes my breath away thinking of that, knowing that I will be lucky to sell one, let alone many. 

So I’m going to take a deep breath, stand back and hope the world is kind to me. All I can do is to wait and see what happens.

The small and secret show

August 20, 2016

Ooh I do like to do the odd thing on the hush hush.  Last year I did something quite spectacularly covert and bonkers around this time. I’m not putting down in writing what it was but it clearly had a few positive effects and did exactly what I intended it to do, but to quote the wonderful film Spinal Tap “there is a fine line between stupid and clever” so fine sometimes that I’m not actually sure where it is and what side of it I am. I am in that position right now on a number of levels. 

One particular example of me trying to be clever that turned out to be stupid was  my genius idea of doing tea towels instead of t shirts as printed merchandise this year for coastal currents arts festival. I love t shirts (we will come back to that later) but the problem with printing them is the size issue. You can’t just order one, you have to order a full spread of sizes from extra small if you want to deal with Asia through to xxxl. Plus there are women’s cut t shirts and children’s, and then a range of colourways to consider. Things suddenly get into serious outlay and organisation territory. So I thought I’d do tea towels. I mean, everyone does the washing up, or almost everyone. So no issues with sizing or any of that, just one thing to print. Sorted! 

Erm, wrong! There definitely was a size issue, a glaringly obvious one. Although I didn’t realise it until I got a seemingly innocuous  email back from my screen printer, “this is to size right?” It took my woolly head a few minutes to work out what exactly he was getting at. I design my t shirt images on a3 paper, I may clean them up slightly later in Photoshop but I love things to retain that hand drawn feeling rather than something cold and sterile that could have been bashed out in an hour or so. So the design I sent him was done to this size. I scratched my head for a moment and then went rooting about for a tea towel from the kitchen draw and held it up to myself…. Oh! It was a lot bigger about twice the size in fact. So up goes the screen making costs and up goes the cost per unit. Whoops!

I was particularly pissed off with myself because I thought I was being doubly sorted because I even checked that the cafe where I shall be displaying this work, and the now Terry Gilliam level over budget tea towels, because they would have the phrase “pure poison” plastered all over them and their cafe in return. Fortunately they got the joke and even suggested that we hang them up on clothes lines across the ceiling. Now this is where my next genius idea came in. “I will need to buy some clothes pegs” I thought to myself. “clothes pegs, hmm? Old fashioned wooden ones… I know what! I can paint little people on them! No! Wait! I can paint little me’s on each one. Yes! Little versions of me, each with a different outfit on. Brilliant!” Except… Well, have you ever tried doing a hundred of a thing and make each one different? No? Well neither have I. 

The logistics of getting everything to dry without sticking to each other was hard enough to figure out on its own but the real problem came with the t shirts (see! I told you!) you see I do have rather a lot of t shirts, if Emelda Marcos were into t shirts instead of shoes I would be her. It all seemed simple at first, just work through the dolly pegs, ten at a time, adding designs from my extensive wardrobe. After a while though they all start to blur in to one and once you get past the fifty mark it’s a question of constantly referring back through the shirts that I had already painted so as to not duplicate anything . The nicest aspect for me was the ability to recreate some of my old t shirts, including some of the cyberpunk stuff from my twenties that I can’t carry off any more and all the Westwood ones that went on eBay in the end as I was too fat to wear them anymore. 

I finally finished the last batch yesterday and I must admit that I’m not sorry. So now I effectively have an exhibition of one hundred little me’s that I will use to hang up my tea towels. They will be on sale for a few quid each but  I won’t be making a song and dance about what I have done. I like leaving little surprises for the observant as so few people are nowadays. So many people seem to drift through life in a haze, doing what they are told to do, liking what they are told to like and buying what they are told to buy. Whilst it’s true that I shall never get rich doing the things I do at least it rewards the quietly observant, so much of the world is tailored to the brash, the egotistical, the controlling and the show offs. It’s nice to give something back to the quiet people. 

The secret peg portrait show can be seen at the love cafe, Norman road, st leonards on sea, throughout September. 

Logistical nightmares 

July 24, 2016

I was told a story many years ago about a musician who was big in the sixties. When I say big I mean BIG as in HUGE!!! His family and his staff had one major goal at the time I was told this and that was to side track this person from making new music and going on tour. The world had moved on, their work while still wonderful in its own way was no longer relevant and everything they put out would lose them money when all they really had to do was sit back and let the revenues from all the film, tv and commercials that use their work and the still constant radio plays around the world, fill up their bank account.  This person although still vastly creative was much better off by not being so. The thing is, there is no off button to ideas. Well, if there is, I haven’t found it yet and I’ve had a bloody good look for my own personal one.

I was reminded by this yesterday, I met a world famous rapper, of course I didn’t have a clue who he was and had to look him up when I got home. A freind of mind is this person’s p.a. I recognised something very familiar with them, they were in their own little world, their focus darting about all the time and they shot off and came back again numerous times both physically and mentally in the length of time it took to drink a cup of coffee. I recognise it because I can be guilty of it myself, hopefully to a lesser degree, orbiting others in your own world of ideas and imagination so fast that you only come into contact with everyone else every now and again because the flood of thought sends you racing off again. If you make it to a certain extent (whatever “it” is) you can afford people to buffer you from the world, if you don’t or if your path to get to be doing what you need to do to stay sane is a long one, you are seen as being mad. People make allowances for ‘creative types’ if they are making people money. If not, you tend to be avoided and that is the best case scenario. I used to pop in and visit a freind of mine at work whenever I went shopping in London, he worked in computer animation and the post production unit that was his base of operation was just off Covent Garden. One person who used to turn up a lot was well known for making videos for Bjork amongst others. The guy was rail thin and stank but his work was amazing, truly mind blowing but he had blown his own mind in the process. He was a lovely chap, but without employing a minder he would be a shut in somewhere or, worse still, on the streets. The world is not kind to people who think too much.

So here’s the problem. I have a show in September, I am also running a few workshops at a local gallery / museum that run at the same time. I need to get public liability insurance and a criminal record check done both of which are time and a faff and need to prepare merchandise to go with the show, little things people can afford such as cards badges and the like. I’d like to have a new silk screen made up at the printers and get some t shirts made and also some tea towels and then there is the framing…

The theme of the show is “Dweeblings in love (and other matters of the heart)” I have taken my main inspiration from the heart procedure, the lead up to it and my slow recovery. I have gone on a journey, both psychically and mentally, trying to wrap my head around how narrowly I avoided death earlier this year and the modern miracle that is non invasive surgery and my mixed feelings of discomfort and wonder at what was done to me and the medication I had to take. My mind has been following many paths through the Japanese art of repairing precious ceramics with gold, through catholic sacred heart iconography and am currently pondering the chemical similarity between anti blood clot drugs and rat poison. As usual, all the while I am doing all this, I politely tolerate being patronised and patted on the head by people who look at the seemingly overly simplistic nature of my painting style and see it only at face value because the grand theme that has run though everything I have done for decades now is this, the art world is a bit of a racket and very few people understand it beyond what they are told to like or pick up anything more than the very surface of what they see. It is as much a business and as fickle in nature as fashion and while there is plenty of genuine talent, there are also some right wankers about.  As usual I am merrily pointing out where the Emperor’s stubby todger is as he is not actually wearing any clothes. As is my nature, I am currently shooting myself in the foot so often that I am rapidly running out of toes. The tea towel I want to produce and sell in the restaraunt / cafe is based on old Victorian poison bottle labels, probably not the best thing to have around while trying to get someone to order food. Then there are all the drawings of hearts which jolly as they are are probably way too graphic for food consumption.

 The worst problem though is the framing, I have been working mainly on paper for the last few months and they all need framing and every frame costs money. Plus to make matters worse I’m still doing them. I can’t stop!!! I can’t stop having ideas, I can’t stop making links I have ideas for a few more paintings every time I am sitting down working on the current one. Even now, I have just idly scratched my arm and the thiness of my blood and skin has caused a small trail of blood to run down my arm and I’m thinking of rivers and river courses and maps and how that would link up to images of veins in anatomy drawings and how I could find maps with amusing road names and overlay them in blood and gold. Aaaaaaargh! It just doesn’t stop. But it must stop, or at least for long enough to catch up with the admin for what I have done already. I have no minions to mumble at to make these problems go away or to explain things to people who can’t speak fluent Chris. I just have to take a deep breath and stop for a while and hope my brain doesn’t explode with the backlog. So if you are passing through St Leonards in the next couple of months and you should happen to see a red smear on the wall and bits of brain and skull dotted about, you will know what has happened. Chris had one idea too many. 

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