I drew this in 1980, when I was 11 years old and in my first year at Bruntcliffe High School. As you can see, I was very much into horror at this stage, tuning in every Friday night for the horror double bill on the BBC and seeking out copies of hallowed titles like Hammer House of Horror magazine. This was all drawn with felt-tips, using no underlying pencils to help me make it any less crap, but somehow the childlike enthusiasm displayed has prevented me from destroying it, as I have done with 99% of everything else I’ve ever created. What surprises and frustrates me is that people who cannot draw any better than this now get exhibited in high art circles and make a living from their work. I don’t exhibit, I rarely sell, and my future as anything other than a Sunday painter is decidedly unlikley, so I can only put my comparitive failure down to the fact that somewhere along the way I learnt how to draw and paint and started caring about the end results. It seems to me that being blatantly inept is the way to “get ahead” these days, which has forced me to look for alternative ways by which to measure success.
In 2006 I started work on a book – The Hangman’s Breakfast – that consumed the next 18 months of my life and resulted in a half-a-million word manuscript that is totally unpublishable. Admittedly it needs some serious editing, but beyond that there’s the fact that no-one – sane or otherwise – would want to read about sixty years of “murder, madness and mystery”, and I should know, ‘cos I wrote it and it took me to some very dark places indeed. Each chapter focussed on succesive decades since World War Two, highlighting the crimes notorious and otherwise that took place, attempting in my own fumbling way to write an alternative social history of Britain at the fag end of the 20th century. Alongside the usual roll-call – Brady/Hindley, Sutcliffe, the West’s – were many other examples of failed humanity that, by the end of it, left me deeply unsettled and cured of any fascination I held for the ‘true crime’ genre. Above is the final design I settled on for the book’s cover, whereas this:
was the original design. And this:
was my final statement on the subject, a painting from summer 2008 that represents the point where I decided to completely change my working practices. I sold or gave away all my true crime books, destroyed all my notes for the book, archived the digital files, and tried to start again like the preceding twenty years or so all had been a bad dream and I was waking up on a bright new morning loaded with promise. Well, you’ve only got to look at my output since to know that I am – and always will be – drawn to the darker end of the street, and that all my reading and research for this failed book continues to bleed through into everything I do. It’s unavoidable really, given that I grew up in the era of the Yorkshire Ripper, that one of his first victims came from our village, and that my dad met him a few times when Sutcliffe made deliveries to the place where he worked. Donald Neilson, the Black Panther, went to school with my mother. Robert Black abducted and murdered a girl from my home town. All of this has undoubtedly had an impact on my view of humanity, and as a result this affects the work that I do. Like the song says, “I see a darkness.”
Arguably the perfect Christmas present for the Withnail & I fan:
Handwritten speech from Hamlet, as performed by Withnail at the end of the film, on handmade paper.
All presentation-bound with handwritten/handmade paper strip.
A unique unrepeatable offer. First come, first serve.
£35 (includes postage). Payment via PayPal. Email me.
Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation.
This is a painting I’ve been working on since July. I knew I was embarking on a major undertaking when I started the pencils, but I’d got worried that I was getting lazy and needed to challenge myself. Sigh… if only I’d known what I was doing, I might have thought again. Above is where I’d got to in early Sept, and this:
is where it’s at as of mid-December. As you can see, some significant progress has been made, but there’s still a long way to go, and I don’t foresee finishing this before well into next year, which is ironic given that the working title is ‘The Last Day Of Summer’.