Stranger On The Shore is a series of short films by Michael Smith & Maxy Neil Bianco, with an original soundtrack from Andrew Weatherall and Nina Walsh. Collectively, these “video poems” use footage shot in the coastal margins of England to explore the myths and madness that these places nurture and inspire. From Goth-haunted Whitby to the psychic fault-line of Hastings and the industrial interzone along the Thames Estuary, it covers all the right territory and promises to reinforce my own ideas about these places that have always fascinated me. I remember a family holiday when I was about five years old – a week in Blackpool, in November, to see the illuminations. Permanently brooding skies, rotting rollercoasters reflected in the rain puddles, cheap tat behind drizzle-smeared shop windows on the Golden Mile – a genuine nightmare for some, but I liked it that way. It had a mysterious and thrillingly-unsettling atmosphere that overwhelmed my young and impressionable mind, and those feelings return even today when I end up down a Tenby back-street or wander the storm-slapped seafront at Eastbourne. These are the places where people come to have a good time, and generally go home disappointed, leaving a sump of failed dreams to be plumbed by those who prefer ruin over regeneration and horror over heritage.
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
I’ve never read any of Nabokov’s books. I was probably initially put off by the fact that Sting sang about him in ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, but I’ve come across enough of his quotes down the years to suggest me might be worth my attention. This mock-up cover uses my 2014 drawing of the eccentric lepidopterist himself.
Further to previous posts (here and here), this painting is now proceeding rapidly towards completion. Grey tones undercoated, now I just need to sort out the background and then start on the fine detail, which entails hours and hours of insane eyesight-destroying close-up work. If I wanted to make it easy for myself I could just piss it out like any number of contemporary painters (you know who you are) but, for me, the essence of the creative process is best summed up by Cormac McCarthy when he said: “Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”
I spent most of yesterday edging this painting closer to completion. Here’s where it was 2 days ago:
I’ve learnt over time that my best work emerges from a loaded shadow of influences that seemingly bear no relation to the finished piece, so while on the surface this is just a painting of a bird, there’s a lot of other things feeding into it, including (to name just a few) – W.B. Yeats’ The Second Coming, Stanley Spencer’s memorial chapel at Sandham, John Burnside’s I Put A Spell On You, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Push The Sky Away.
August 29 1979
She wore her yellow socks again. She’s getting a hole in one of them. I smelled her pajamas in the laundry room today, and I’m pretty sure that’s weird. They smelled like frozen waffles.
Jonathan Evison, All About Lulu
Published in 2008, All About Lulu was Jonathan Evison’s first novel. His profile is now rising, thanks to the successful film version of his novel The Revised Fundamentals Of Caregiving, but I prefer this first stab where he confidently established his blend of comedy and heartbreak – often in the same sentence. The novel details the obsessions of William Miller, raised as a weakling outcast amidst a barely-functioning family of bodybuilders, whose life changes dramatically when, just at the cusp of puberty, he acquires a new step-sister in the form of Lulu. She becomes the wholly inappropriate love/lust of his life. Across a fondly-recollected swathe of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s America, Evison is one of the few writers to make me laugh out loud on a crowded bus, as well as shake my head and swallow hard at the poignancy of his observations on the foibles of humanity. You’ll never have heard of it but it’s one of my favourite novels, and I used my 2014 drawing of Aubrey Plaza (who would be perfect casting for the older, fucked-up Lulu) for the above cover design.