There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.
Jack London, The Call Of The Wild
My 2011 painting ‘Jim Cain‘ mocked up as a cover for Jack London’s classic adventure tale. Reading this along with White Fang at an early age put me on the path I pursue to this day.
This is how far I’ve got with my current painting, as of yesterday morning (16 June). See previous progress reports here. I’m at the stage now where I can spend a couple of hours working on it, sit back and not be able to see any actual progress, but it’s happening. Slowly. I’m aiming to be finished by the end of the month.
A mock-up poster for one of my favourite films: Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. It’s a film that for me fully supports the argument that “the quality of a film is inversely proportional to the number of helicopters in it.” There’s no helicopters. No car chases, no alien invasions, no capes. It’s a film where “nothing happens.” A man works as a bus driver, lives with his girlfriend, and writes poems. That’s it. It’s subtle, understated, funny and honest. The poems are good too. This is one of my favourites:
When you’re a child
there are three dimensions:
height, weight and depth.
Like a shoebox.
Then later you hear
there’s a fourth dimension:
Then some say
there can be fie, six, seven…
I knock off work,
have a beer
at the bar.
I look down at the glass
and feel glad
I don’t advise a haircut, man. All hairdressers are in the employment of the government. Hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain. This is the reason bald-headed men are uptight.
Danny The Dealer
This is a new drawing of Ralph Brown as ‘Danny The Dealer’ from Withnail & I, the greatest film ever made. I’ve drawn him before:
but this updated and – in my opinion – much improved version (this time around he’s more John Everett Millais than Edgar Broughton Band) was prompted by an enquiry from someone wanting to buy a copy of a booklet I made years ago. This was a self-published tome featuring all my Withnail & I-related artwork, a booklet that has long since sold out (not hard to do when you only make a couple of copies) but I still had three of the four original drawings. Always eager to please, I offered to make the new drawing of Danny, and sell him the full suite of drawings (see below)
for a reasonable price. Thus the deal was done. It’s been a while since I watched the film, but I know it so well I could regurgitate every line and act out most of the scenes myself. Nothing else I’ve ever seen manages such a perfect blend of mirth and melancholy, and nothing like it could ever be made today.
Bill Callahan’s new album – Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest – is released today. To “celebrate” the fact (I hate the term, but I have to find a way to align it with my own work) here’s my 2010 painting ‘I’m New Here’, a portrait of Bill Callahan, the artist formely known as ‘Smog’. And here:
is a poster I mocked up, using my 2014 drawing ‘Ride My Arrow‘, named after one of the songs on his last album Dream River. On this new album, Bill’s in a lighter mood than in the past (“I used to be darker, then I got lighter…” from his 2009 song ‘Jim Cain’), and the songs are a lot shorter, though they do tend to flow together to create a seamless whole. At times it reminds me of the ‘song stories’ from Bagpuss… if those stories had been written by Kurt Vonnegut that is, but then there’s a song like ‘Circles’ which is an entire novel told in less than two and a half minutes that reminds me of the short stories of Raymond Carver or Richard Yates. This is more like the Bill of old, where every so often he’ll drop a line (‘the past has always lied to me’, ‘death is beautiful’) that just make me stop and really think about what he’s just said. Ultimately, it’s a new Bill Callahan album so “what’s not to like” but part of must admit that he prefers the lonely, unmarried, childless Bill, staring into the abyss of his own back yard, “watching the wind rip the leaves from the trees.” I’m sure – and it’s evident from this new album – that he prefers his life the way it is now, but I remain sympathetic to the maxim that “happy people don’t make good art.” Here’s three examples of what I mean:
I made this painting – ‘The Next Life’ – in early 2017. I was going through a major life change at the time, abandoning a 30-year ‘career’ in the civil service for pastures anew, and needed to express that sense of possibility I was feeling. Had I painted it a few months later than I did, I would have called it ‘Every Country’s Sun’, after the title track of the album my favourite band Mogwai released that year. The atmosphere they evoke in that song is exactly how I felt as I walked that cold frosty November morning through the park in my childhood home of Churwell. It was making paintings of Mogwai songs in 2008-2011 that taught me how to be a painter, and every so often I think I ought to go back and finish what I started, making paintings of the half-dozen or so songs of theirs that I had plans for but never got around to. One day maybe.
In the meantime, listen to this rendition of ‘Every Country’s Sun’, recorded at KEXP Studios in Seattle, WA, in November 2017. I much prefer this to the album version. This is Mogwai in full flight, making just about every other band sound redundant.