Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.
The Dark Mountain Project is, in their own words, “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We produce and seek out writing, art and culture rooted in place, time and nature.” The cynics and rationalists may dismiss this as just bunch of deluded hippies refusing to get in step with the inexorable march of progress, but as someone who has since childhood been very suspicious about the stories our civilisation tells itself, I am inclined to align myself with what seems like a worthwhile endeavour. Perhaps I’m just a hopeless Romantic, but I make no apologies for that. Romanticism arose out of a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, informed by a respect for the myths of the past and a deep mistrust for the new religion of ‘progress’, and as we live in similarly tumultuous times, an evolved form of Romanticism seems entirely necessary to those of us who cannot find any meaning whatsoever in the mass media simulacra that surrounds us. It’s not about changing the world (to quote Joseph Campbell again: “The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it”) or even ‘saving it’ (to quote another wise philosopher, George Carlin: “The planet is fine. The people are fucked.”), it’s about evolving a different way of thinking about it all and applying what’s learnt from that thinking in ways that may help others, whether human or not. Poems won’t halt glacial ice melt. Paintings won’t stop the obliteration of the rain forests. But we have to rethink everything in relation to our existence on this planet, because we are speeding towards something unprecedented in the history of humans on this planet, and we are not prepared for it. That said, our history as it’s been taught through the educational institutions is not fixed, and with each passing year new information emerges to suggest that humans have developed civilisations many times in the past, and each has been swept away by unexpected cataclysms of either cosmic or human origin. Myth traditions from around the world speak of these cataclysms, and they’re typically dismissed as being “just stories.” Maybe some of them are. Maybe some of the ‘facts’ have been garbled through mistranslation or misunderstanding. But at their heart there is a truth, and it can be boiled down to something as simple as “don’t get too up yourselves.” Our present monoculture is precisely that; it thrives on perpetuating self-absorption and the championing of the individual, and what myths it does seem prepared to tolerate are those that only reinforce the values of the monoculture and contribute to the selling of a few more gonks and gadgets. It seems to me then that as a necessary counter-point we need to hear different myths and different stories from a wider range of voices, sharing uncommon perspectives that transcend anthropocentricity and root us in a space-time where we recognise all the other species as, as Henry Beston put it, “fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
I’ve used my 2014 drawing ‘Ride My Arrow’ (inspired by a Bill Callahan song) to mock-up this concert poster. I used to do rock posters and album covers back in the early 2000’s, back when my aesthetic was very different to what interests me now. I’m pleased with how this turned out, and have had a go at a few more that I’ll unveil over the coming weeks. Keep tuning in to see what comes next, and feel free to suggest some bands you’d like to see me do a poster for. In the meantime, here’s a few of my favourite Bill Callahan songs:
Finally. I have high quality giclee prints of 4 of my paintings available to buy. Go to the Prints page for full details of prices and how to order. There’s only 10 copies of each print available for now, so it’s first come first serve. All enquires: email@example.com
For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
This new painting is one with significant personal importance for me. The reference photo was taken early on the cold and frosty morning of Tuesday 29th November 2016. I had been visiting my parents and was embarking on the journey home. Walking through Churwell Park to the bus stop I was struck by the sun rising behind the houses on Park Street. A long shaft of light fell across the embankment and the path that encircles what we as kids used to call ‘The Island’, and I saw a very ordinary suburban scene suffused with a sense of what the Romantics called ‘the sublime’. I’d been taking photographs all weekend, hoping to capture something that could be made into a painting, but only now, on my way home, did I see something that I thought could work. Churwell Park was a place full of memories for me – it was where I first got drunk, it was where I first kissed a girl, it was where I got beaten up by a gang of older lads, and it was also where I had been struck by several private and invaluable epiphanies throughout my formative years. I wasn’t sure if any of that could be adequately expressed in a single painting, but I felt it was worth having a go. I nearly named it after one of my favourite Mogwai songs, but in the end settled on a title that expresses where I’m at with the completion of this painting, moving on from one way of living to a new one.
I’ve used my 2016 painting ‘The October Country’ as a mock-up book cover for John Lewis-Stempel’s Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field. There’s been a recent resurgence in ‘nature’ writing of late, so much so that certain book chains now have a dedicated ‘Nature’ section. A lot of it’s not very good, and for every J.A Baker there’s a fading celebrity pretending to have discovered a love of bird watching, but Meadowland is one of the better titles. The author’s genuine love for the subject is unmistakable and his prose shimmers like the air rising from the sun-baked ground on a summer’s afternoon.
I use mythology and folklore, when I use it, not to deflect the attention away from reality but to focus the attention of the reader on the apparent reality behind the reality, the reality behind the three-dimensional world, because it was that reality that was real for me in childhood.
Alan Garner was the author of The Owl Service, one of the key texts within the recent fad for the English Wyrd. This early 1980’s documentary features Garner talking about his life and influences, and comes loaded with narrated excerpts from his books and eerie musical interludes and recorded screams that are curiously reminiscent of The League Of Gentlemen. Other scenes of Garner wandering around his key sites of inspiration – mainly around Alderley Edge in Cheshire – look like they’re from the early days of pop videos, with shaky hand-held footage and sudden zooms into blacked-out windows and strange rock formations. Somehow it all adds to the sincere intention of introducing Garner’s unusual body of work to the unsuspecting viewer.
I’ve used my 2016 drawing ‘The Owl Service’ for this mock-up poster for a Mogwai concert. Mogwai are my favourite band, and have been since the mid-90’s when I first heard ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ and realised nothing else was ever going to be the same again. I first saw them perform live at the Duchess Of York in Leeds on Valentine’s Day 1998, and have seen them a few times since then, but it’s the records I prefer. I listen to them while I’m painting and went through a phase a few years back of making paintings inspired by some of their songs (see some examples here). Whenever I go back up north I have them on my mp3 player as I walk around the town and the woods and they really have ended up making the soundtrack of my adult life. Here’s some of my favourite Mogwai songs: