I took this photograph at Bluestone in Pembrokeshire. The woods there have been depressingly over-manicured to make them user-friendly for middle-class families, to the extent that they’ve lost the very essence of that which you go into the woods for in the first place. You really have to get beyond where most people are prepared to walk to find the remaining traces of untamed land, and it was only in that territory that my senses really came alive. A word or two from J.A.Baker sums it up nicely:
I have always longed to be part of the outward life, to be out there at the edge of things, to let the human taint wash away in emptiness and silence as the fox sloughs his smell into the cold unworldliness of water; to return to the town a stranger. Wandering flushes a glory that fades with arrival.
The Dark Monarch was a 2010 exhibition, shown at both the Tate, St. Ives and Devonshire Park in Eastbourne. It collected work from a wide range of artists under the theme of folklore, mysticism, mythology and the occult and their influence on modernism in British Art. The emphasis was on the early 20th century evolutions of Surrealism and Neo-Romanticism and the resurgence and reinterpretation of those influences by contemporary 21st century artists.
So, alongside the expected names – Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Graham Sutherland, John Piper – you get more obscure figures like Ithell Colquhoun and Leslie Hurry, displayed thematically rather than chronologically alongside more recent artists such as Derek Jarman, Clare Woods and, inevitably, Damien Hirst.
I was inspired to mock-up my 2013 painting ‘The Dark Monarch‘ as a graphic for the exhibition (see above), because if I were ever to “curate” an exhibition it would be something like this – an eclectic mix of styles and techniques that seem to suggest a common inspirational source from which the ideas have been released. I’ve always been drawn to what John Burnside terms ‘the dark end of the fair’, but in my youth that fascination was too explicit. These days I prefer it to be just under the surface of the work, throbbing with power like a ley line, and I can see that dark artery connecting all of the works collected in this exhibition which I’m still disappointed to have missed. The exhibition catalogue, referencing a broad range of tangential connections, from the lyric of Morrissey to Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, is one I’ve long sought after but is now a rare item and priced way beyond my reach, so I may have to make my own version to compensate, filling it with everything I might have included had I been ‘curating’.
A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his art first opened.
This is my painting ‘The Next Life’, completed in January 2017. The location is Churwell Park, where I spent most of my childhood and adolescence. If someone had told me back then I would one day make a painting of this place, I wouldn’t have believed them. What would be the point? It took many years out in the wider world to learn just how deeply the place you grow up in imprints itself on your senses. These days, whenever I go back there, it no longer feels home, but because so little has changed over the years, the ghostly impression of how it once was is still there, and I’m reminded of how I felt back then. All that hope, all that passion, it’s still there, unsullied by all the mistakes and disappointments that experience has brought, waiting for me to find it again, and it’s in making paintings like this that I find I can feel like I once did. Camus was right.
This week I’ve finished one painting (this one) and got straight back on with another that I started many weeks ago: ‘Valentine’s Day’ (see above). The initial pencils were done in early June:
with the black undercoat completed later that month:
I’ve now started layering in the base colours and plan to work solely on this painting over the coming weeks. It’s intended as a companion piece to this painting:
‘Lover’s Day’, completed back in Spring, and I’m hoping to make prints available for both before the end of the year.
Over the summer have been involved is several other projects, some of which I hope to give some details about soon.
The World Wildlife Fund is asking for people to sign a petition, urging leaders of the twelve countries where Snow Leopards are thought to live in the wild to take the action required to save this endangered species. The International Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Forum is meeting this month in Kyrgyzstan, and it’s at this forum that the WWF wants those leaders to agree to the following:
It’s always going to be easier to get people’s attention about the plight of a magnificent creature like a snow leopard, as opposed to, for example, the Taildropper Slug, but it’s also an indication of how dire things have become when an apex predator as elusive and remote from humankind as this (it’s not called the Ghost of the Mountain for nothing) is actually on the brink of extinction in the wild. It’s plight speaks to just how awry we’ve gone as a species and how corrupted has become our measure of what’s valuable on this planet. It ought not to be forgotten that the forces that might eventually do away with the snow leopard and the thousands of other species on an annual basis, will also one day – perhaps not that far off any more – get around to doing away with us. Allow me to quote the sage wisdom of Wendell Berry:
Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.
I’m not sure how effective online petitions are in achieving anything, but the WWF clearly think it has value so why not take a few seconds to add your voice? Sign the petition here.
Justin Marriott, publisher of The Paperback Fanatic – the Holy Bible for all pulp paperback collectors – recently asked me to create a cover (see above) for the next issue of his offshoot title Pulp Horror. As the title suggests, Pulp Horror is dedicated specifically to the golden age of ‘trash’ horror fiction, a roughly 20-year period from the early 1970’s through to the early 90’s that covered my formative years. I learned to love reading because of horror, starting with Stephen King. His list of recommended reading at the back of his non-fiction classic Danse Macabre put me on to many a great writer and saw me through the doldrums of my months on the dole in 1986-87. After completing the rite of passage that is James Herbert, I moved on to Peter Straub, Dennis Etchison, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Nigel Kneale, H.P. Lovecraft and many more besides. King’s influence also put me on to the great horror artists of the Weird Tales era, including Virgil Finlay and Lee Brown Coye, leading on to the great Marvel and DC horror comics, with incredible art by Berni Wrightson, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino. Gene Colan and many more. It’s a deep dark crypt and Justin and his contributors do not hesitate from marching in there with blazing torches and gore-drenched stakes in hand. It’s pure and unadulterated nostalgia for those who used to stand in W.H.Smith’s, agog and mindwarped at the plethora of outrageously lurid book covers for titles like Slugs, Moonbog and The Doll Who Ate His Mother, the kind of book covers you will never ever see again, for books that will never ever be published again.
Pulp Horror #6 is available now. Order your copy here.
Pulp Horror #6 – full details @ Vault Of Evil