My whole life has been spent walking by the side of a bottomless chasm, jumping from stone to stone. Sometimes I try to leave my narrow path and join the swirling mainstream of life, but I always find myself drawn inexorably back towards the chasm’s edge, and there I shall walk until the day I finally fall into the abyss.
Photograph taken in Mangotsfield, Bristol, January 2018.
When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.
Photograph taken 2009, at the site of the old dog racing track on Elland Road, Leeds. It had been a weed-clotted wasteland since I was a kid, but is now where the new West Yorkshire Police headquarters stands.
I’ve gone back to this long-unfinished painting. It’s been propped against the wall in my ‘studio’ (spare bedroom) for several months, sullenly throwing down the challenge for me to crack on and finish it.
Here’s how I left it back in August 2017:
Here’s the initial pencils, done in June 2017:
The working title is ‘Valentine’s Day’, and that’s given me some kind of deadline to aim for, but knowing how slowly I work these days, there’s more chance of me being eaten by a T-Rex than ever finishing this before 14th February. When it is finished, it’s intended to be a companion piece to this painting:
‘Lover’s Day’, finished in April 2017. I’m reminded here that even my most colourful and ‘pretty’ pictures are full of darkness and shadow. I’ll allow a far more articulate writer than I to explain why that is the case:
The time comes when each of us sees a blackness in the world: a black in the green of leaf and river, a black in the light of noon, a blackness in the gaze of an animal encountered some early morning in the summer grass. There is a blackness in everything that is, a darkness that is hard to see, more often than not, a blackness that is not only necessary, but also for the best. For the best.
John Burnside, A Lie About My Father
That day, I really believed I had grasped something and that henceforth my life would be changed. But insights cannot be held forever. Like water, the world ripples across you and for a while you take on its colours. Then it recedes, and leaves you face to face with the void you carry inside yourself, confronting that central inadequacy of soul which you must learn to run shoulders with and to combat, and which, paradoxically, may be our surest impetus.
Nicholas Bouvier, The Way Of The World
Photograph taken on the Gower, Wales, June 2014.
It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and of your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendour. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognise the positive values in what appears to be the negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure… the adventure of being alive.
Photograph taken in Holbeck, Leeds, 2009.
Nikolaus Geyrhalter is an Austrian film-maker with a unique eye. Homo Sapiens is his 2016 film about “the finiteness and fragility of human existence and the end of the industrial age, and what it means to be a human being.” What you get is a hour and a half of scenes from all over the world, each a middle-distance shot taken with an unmoving camera, changing every 20 seconds or so. No music. No dialogue, just the field recordings of what was going on at the time, be it the wind howling through an abandoned industrial site, or rain dripping into a puddle inside a long-abandoned shopping mall.
It’s the complete antidote to a synapse-destroying Marvel movie with its Looney Tunes editing and shock and awe assault on your lizard brain, and one that’s perfectly aligned with my own aesthetic. I have the classical Romanticists’ love for ruins and abandoned places, and tend to divide people into two camps – those who like Disneyland by daylight, and those who’d prefer to go there at night, when it’s empty and all the rides are shut down and there’s just litter blowing down the arcades. If you prefer the latter, then this film is for you.
It’s not the first time someone has tried to visually imagine a post-human world, but Geyrhalter wisely stands back and lets the images speak for themselves. The artistry comes from the careful selection of places to depict and their sequencing in the edit. We become mute witness to the evidence of our brief moment in the planet’s long history. Easily one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in a long time.
Perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I should simply recognize, learning a fraction of what I have forgotten.
Photograph taken at Bruntcliffe Cemetery, Morley, Leeds, April 2014.